Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Jun 19, 2008

The opening track on 1968’s Music from Big Pink is one of the most perfect pop compositions ever. It is a perfectly atypical opening number and a perfect introduction to the intriguing style of The Band. It is also a depressing suggestion as to how much more perfect they could have been had Richard Manuel been able to keep himself from himself.


Co-written by Manuel and Bob Dylan, “Tears of Rage” is the painful lament of a betrayed parent. The first recorded version of the song is the Dylan-sung one that was released on The Basement Tapes. Dylan’s – usually extraordinary – ability to capture the essence of the song was utterly obliterated by Manuel’s on the official Big Pink reading. The extraordinary anguish in Manuel’s voice added exponentially to the already heartbreaking lyrics. The slower composition, Garth Hudson’s haunting organ, Robbie Robertson’s swirling guitar, the unparalleled rhythm of drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko (who also provides backup vocals), as well as Manuel’s own piano work combined for one of those very rare occasions in which Dylan was completely schooled on one of his own songs (ironically, Manuel does it again on the same album with his version of “I Shall be Released”).


Sadly, the mood of “Tears of Rage” was forebodingly symbolic of the pain and suffering that would eventually consume Richard Manuel – who hanged himself in 1986 after two decades of extreme substance abuse. Perhaps the rarest attribute of The Band was the deficiency of a definitive front-man. With three lead singers and all five members’ status as exceptional musicians, there was no member of The Band who was more important to its achievements than the other; but for the first five minutes of their first album, they seemed to revolve around one genius.


Though the introverted Manuel would continue to prove integral to The Band’s success with his singing and playing abilities, his contributions decreased to the point that Robertson was getting credit for writing all of their songs (whether he actually wrote them or not has been debated) and Rick Danko became, more and more, the go-to-guy for mournful ballads.


The final and lasting image of The Band, for many, was Martin Scorsese’s documentary of their farewell concert, The Last Waltz, in which Manuel sang only one complete on-screen song (“The Shape I’m In”) and the middle verse of the closer “I Shall be Released”, during which he is barely visible, eclipsed by the throng of superstars on stage (Dylan, at center stage, sings the other two verses). As great a movie as it was, The Last Waltz did not portray Manuel in a way that would provide those unfamiliar with him any insight into just how important he was to The Band.


To this day, most people seem to know of The Band, but few know much about them outside of their association with Dylan and would probably only recognize the name “Robbie Robertson”. Their eponymous second album is generally regarded as their definitive statement. While I wouldn’t deny that it is a pretty great album, I feel that Music from Big Pink and, more specifically, “Tears of Rage” are perfect examples of how much better “The Brown Album” could have been had Richard Manuel conquered his inner demons a bit more and played a larger role in the songwriting.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Jun 19, 2008

Shows how out of the loop I am—I thought this was still at the discussion stage! Turns out it’s done and ready to go. Sort of, anyway. This promo says “Coming in 2008”, yet the IMDb has it listed for release in January of next year. Either way, it’s one I’m certainly looking forward to. Inkheart is one of the few fantasy stories I actually really enjoyed. It has that added bonus, for me, of centering on the world of books and writers and literary heroes.


Inkheart is about Mo, a man who can bring characters out of the books they inhabit. Trouble starts for Mo and his daughter when the characters lifted from the medieval novel, Inkheart start rummaging around in reality for evil spirits and roads home. The movie stars Brendan Fraser as Mo and Eliza Bennett as his daughter.


This piece from YouTube features scenes from the movie, as well as the actors discussing the film and the book that inspired it:



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jun 18, 2008

It stands as one of the most unusual, and blinkered, boycotts ever. For the last few months, self-proclaimed Indo-American leader Rajan Zed has been waging a one man campaign against Mike Myers’ latest live action comedy, The Love Guru. Pointing to the fact that the film features an American Born master who comes back to his native land to help a hockey player in distress, Zed has launched a bi-weekly (and sometimes more) email “awareness” campaign, demanding everything from the MPAA labeling the movie “NC-17” to requesting the same body suspend Paramount for “unethical practices” (anyone whose seen This Film is Not Yet Rated knows that ain’t happening anytime soon).


Naturally, all of this comes from someone who, admittedly, has not seen the final film. Nor can he site specific allegations against Myers and company. All he can do is complain about the trailer “lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously”. And without said personal perspective, his screeds come across as horribly misinformed. Over the course of the last few weeks, Zed has also come under fire for mixing fact with a little propagandized fiction. Back in April, he announced that the British Film Institute (better known by the initial BFI) had no intention of supporting, or in their words “screening” the film. Turns out, that’s standard policy for the organization, a procedural loophole victory at best.


As for the rest of his rants, Zed has tried everything and anything. He wanted advance screenings, and when he was awarded them, he still complained. When Paramount finally withdrew the offer, he called conspiracy. He supposedly rallied other religions to his defense, only to have them back off any major pronouncements with a “wait and see” attitude. Now, there is nothing wrong with one ethnic culture or race responding with concern when it appears that someone is about to ridicule their religion or heritage. Even worse, The Love Guru looked like it would indeed use every known concept of Hinduism and Eastern philosophy to fuel yet another regressive Mike Myer’s comedy.


Specifically, the simplistic narrative follows Maurice Pitka, a Western orphan who finds himself learning the ways of the guru alongside the now more famous Deepak Chopra. As he ages, our hero is sick of the comparison, and is looking for a high profile case to bring him to the attention of Oprah, and as a result, the American mainstream. As luck would have it, star player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Darren Roanoke, is having marital troubles. His wife has left him for the notoriously well-hung goalie of the Los Angeles Kings, Jacques “Le Coq” Grande, and as a result, he can no longer score goals. With team owner Jane Bullard and Leaf’s coach Cherkov desperate, they turn to Pitka and his ‘DRAMA’ method to rekindle Roanoke’s romance and save the organization’s Stanley Cup hopes.


In the end, Zed shouldn’t have bothered. Certainly, The Love Guru gives certain Indian stereotypes a tweaking or two. Ben Kingsley, revered for his Oscar winning performance as the nation’s heroic Gandhi, pisses all over the famed pacifists legacy by playing a cross-eyed ashram teacher who gained his horrendous eyesight from years of masturbation. He speaks in a silly voice, makes students fight with mops soaked in his own urine, and gets a juvenile kick out of keeping Myers’ Pitka in an unnecessary vow of chastity. If it was possible, Zed and his gang should ask the Academy to take back the British thespian’s award. He does more damage to the Asian country’s people and reputation with this performance than all the good his 1982 biopic did.


Similarly, Myers does make it seem like all gurus are money grubbing materialists who pervert faith and inner peace into a series of babbling best sellers and a collection of high concept catchphrases. Pitka is always ending his mantras with a tiny “TM” tag, indicating that the wisdom he just quoted is trademarked, and therefore subject to copyrights and royalties. He has personal servants who handle all of his affairs, including a few that are far more intimate than one imagines real gurus require, and there’s a seismic, show business flare to everything Pitka does. Alongside his hopped up horndog tendencies, Myers makes his hero so flawed that we’re not sure if he’s meant as a comment on, or a crass, crude put down of, true Indian wise men.


Such a confused purpose regarding the source material leaves Zed and all others on the outside looking rather confused. Myers personal adoration for Chopra is legendary, and interviews add another level of respect to a figure the comedian feels helped himself - and millions more - find some manner of ersatz enlightenment. So it’s clear the actor would claim comedic poetic license when it comes to how he depicts guru nation. In addition, Pitka’s pitch works. Whatever wacked out system of suggestions and rituals he demands seem successful. Roanoke gets back with his wife, he leads the Leafs to the final game of the Cup, and he even overcomes his phobia regarding his mother. Of course, it takes a pair of elephants having sex to cure that sports performance anxiety ailment.


Indeed, if Zed wants to really get angry about something, one suggests he take the MPAA to task for awarding this tawdry, salacious comedy, overflowing with as many dick and diarrhea jokes as possible, a lowly PG-13 rating. That’s right, kids between the ages of eight and twelve, guided by the unmitigated buzz of an MTV saturated media hype, will be able to witness more penis humor than a dorm room full of drunken frat pledges. The movie starts with a dong joke and goes from there - and repeats said wang witticisms over and over again. If Myers is not making fun of Vern Troyer’s size (a given in this kind of film) he is finding new and novel ways to reference the male member. To say it grows tiresome would be giving tediousness a bad name.


Similarly, Myers clearly believes that Judd Apatow and his go-to gang of regulars have failed to fully develop and explore all levels of gross out juvenilia. So The Love Guru skips things like characterization, plot development, drama, insight, and substance to swim in oceans of personal offal. There are farts, snot rockets, dung, numerous mention of skidmarks (and other verbal variations on the dirty drawers), and the aforementioned wiener-palooza. While the sequence with Kingsley and the nauseating pee fight tops them all, there is still enough mind numbing noxiousness to get your gag reflex good and active. While Apatow can claim scatology with subtext, Myers is like a monkey, flinging his poo at the screen for audiences to enjoy.


Zed is wasting his breath if he thinks anyone will actually boycott this unsuccessful swill. The demographic - read: teen boys and their text-tweener dates - will giggle their way to a Summer full of sympathy mimicry, and Pitka is so completely unrealistic that anyone thinking Hindus are being defamed will look like an idiot in the claim. In fact, The Love Guru has so many insider winks to the viewer that it seems to have anticipated the fuss and foiled it by taking absolutely nothing seriously. Had this campaign actually raised the hackles of grass roots organizations everywhere, there would have been a lot of wasted protest breath. Myers’ intent is obvious - do anything, including the slightest of ethnic slams, for a laugh.


Sadly, the only honest snickers will come from anyone who has read Zed’s missives over the last few months. This does not defend The Love Guru - it’s a god-awful anti-comedy, unfunny in unfathomable, almost heroic ways. But it should teach anyone who wants to openly complain about an upcoming project (and the supposedly negative depiction within) to get their facts straight before starting to complain. This is one of those cases where everything, and nothing, could be twisted into being racially insensitive or just downright dumb - and sometimes, both.


Rajan Zed has every right to protect his people and his place among them. He also has the freedom of speech to voice his well meaning and thoughtful concerns. But like the boy who cried wolf, arguing against something you’re not sure exists means that, when the time comes to really go after an abuse, you’ll be viewed less like a savior and more like a stooge. One imagines that no one could stop Myers in pursuit of his big screen muse. It’s too bad Zed didn’t wait until he knew what he was actually attacking before taking up the cause. Anything to keep this crappy movie out of the cultural mainstream would definitely been welcomed. 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jun 18, 2008

I’ve been reading Swedish economist Staffan Linder’s The Harried Leisure Class, which examines the impact of time constraints on consumption. Linder argues that the time it takes to consume and maintain the goods a larger income allows us to acquire must be taken into account when evaluating our decisions regarding whether to save or spend, whether to work more or seek more leisure. These sorts of concerns have returned to prominence recently, but under a new name—such is our customary passivity and our habit of pathologizing and psychologizing social problems with regard to consumption that the problem of time scarcity has been reintroduced as the “attention economy,” with many of us suffering from an “attention deficit.”


Linder foresaw this turn of events, recognizing that we would struggle to find time to make use of all the goods we acquire, and that we would be easily seduced into believing that we could make fertile exchanges between productive work time and consumption time in the search for more marginal utility from the expenditure of our precious moments. In other words, if we can increase our income and buy more things, we would take our utility that way and figure we’d actually consume the stuff later, when presumably we’d have more time to do so and wouldn’t have as much capability to earn. Hence working and shopping replaces the actual enjoyment of leisure. Collecting books replaces the pleasure of reading them, and so on. “One may possibly buy more of everything, but one cannot conceivably do more of everything…. The purchase of more expensive golf clubs is taken as an indication that golfers are devoting themselves more to their sport.” I suddenly understand my absurd music collection in a new light.


We are too deprived of time to do any better—we think that working and earning the money to buy a bunch of books is better quantitatively than working less, buying one book and reading it carefully. And because conserving time is of the essence, it makes more sense to buy more things thoughtlessly and discard the rubbish than to consider every purchase carefully—we have a surfeit of goods and money, what we lack is time. That is why the 99-cent store is such a suitable emblem of our culture—an overwhelming avalanche of cheap goods that we can even begin to process the true worth of.


As Linder explains it,


The yield on time spent in acquiring information on different decisions would gradually deteriorate in relation to the yield on time spent in production. This must lead to a reallocation of time. The time used to acquire information must be reduced per decision. One has to concentrate on acquiring information only of such value that the yield on time spent for this purpose will be as high as in the production of goods. It pays to make a larger number of mistakes in expenditure, instead of preparing all decisions very carefully—and thus having correspondingly less time to acquire income. As the scarcity of time increases, we can expect a decline in the quality of decisions.


This in turn reinforces the appeal of the throwaway society, and the idea that the moment of purchase is where the pleasure is achieved, not the moment of use. The moment of use is where the inevitable disappointment comes when we realize we just acquired more crap. Linder speculates that planned obsolescence can be better understood as the consumer’s preference, since it means the product will ultimately make fewer time and maintenance demands on the consumer.


Similarly, advertising is appealing to us because it limits the time we spend in decision making, regardless of whether it steers toward a wise one. “People can be made the victims of persuasion not because they are irrational but because they are rational. Since they are rational, they are not prepared to spend all their time gathering information on what are the best things to buy”—service journalism notwithstanding. “The increase in the volume of advertising can hardly be attributed to sales departments having become increasingly malevolent or the customers increasingly irrational.” Instead, we’d rather save time and risk being mislead by advertising then research all our purchasing decisions—the number of which are continually increasing, as we substitute acquisition for usage of goods. I have tended to see the appeal of advertising as the vicarious enjoyment it enables—it helps us frame the fantasies that makes goods seem useful to us, particular in shaping the identity and lifestyle we want to project. But this same inducement to vicarious consumption is compelling in relation to our own goods even after we own them—ads help save us time by doing the consuming and enjoying of the goods for them. We can just buy them and know through the ads that we could in theory enjoy them, probably sometime down the road (that will never come). Linder argues that “one actually wants to be influenced by advertising to get an instant feeling that one has a perfectly good reason to buy this or that commodity, the true properties of which one knows dismally little about.” If that is the case, then we are consuming decisiveness as an end in itself, as the pleasurable commodity that ads are able to supply. As usual, the item itself around which the decision making is staged is superfluous, a souvenir of the pleasure of choosing.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jun 18, 2008
The Kills - Cheap and Cheerful

This song is a guilty pleasure for me.  Guilty because The Kills are the Marquis de Sade’s of skeletal alleyway rock wreckage, artists whose image has always felt a little too arch, constructed and Warholian for me.  A lyric like “I want expensive sadness”, regardless of the labored New York aesthetic is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect Paris Hilton to say.  Nihilism and empty heiress blather tend to meet on the extreme ends of the circle.  But there’s something about the gutter blitheness that makes The Kills a band that gets you in touch with your dirtiest, darkest most decadent impulses even if it is a hand-crafted collection of ironically non-ironic cliches.  Not to mention, they can concoct grooves that sound assembled from tenement litter with guitar little more that sparse, fierce punches.  I like them, but always fell like I should have my caveats handy. 


Imagine my surprise to see that the video for a song celebrating the destructive, melodramatic and snide aspects of human nature that has almost no creative energy behind its images.  We have tattered drum corps that really just looking like a methadone line forced to play band camp for day.  Splashes of paint smear the screen but the effect is campy, psychedelic, the antithesis of their sound.  If this is itself a cheeky inversion of their image, then I’m afraid I have to give up out of the sheer exhaustion of following such Olympic level posturing.  Allison Mosshart forgoes her pitch black mane for Flo’s wig from Alice making a perfunctory stab at the retro junky look that serves the video only in the sense of adding another decade to the slopped pastiche.  This song sounds sexy and dangerous, but the video is simply lazy, limp and tame.  They may as well have done it on a mountain top with someone’s “eyes on fire” for all the energy put into tossing this half-assery together.


Tagged as: the kills
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.