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I’m not sure what moment in a singer’s development triggers the jettisoning of one’s inbred voice for a contrived, crossbred, and assumed vocal style. They pretend to sing like someone they’re not. Or do they? Maybe they’re actually just conjuring up a past life or an endured yet unsettling emotion that’s inexpressible in their current method of singing and must be articulated. You can probably guess that Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is this type of songwriter. In the style of Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, Robinson eschews perfect pitch and lacquered tones for an earnestly distraught and wounded sound. And the informal setting of Joe’s Pub provided an intimate setting to absorb his distinctly raw playing.

Robinson’s recent eponymous release was partially overshadowed by collaborators Chris Taylor and Chris Bear of Grizzly Bear and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio. But this set—debuting his new backup band “The Family Robinson”—was entirely his own. Carrying a dejected inertia, “Buriedfed” was sullen but with hints of revival while “There Will Be Mud” was the most rousing of the night. Despite his youthful appearance and exuberance onstage (he warned the audience that the new band was certain to fuck up) his weathered voice exudes age. Only “Someday” sounded lyrically adolescent, though Robinson did seem a bit scatterbrained, taking hours to get set and switch guitars between songs. But his uncanny synthesis of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Langhorne Slim, and Josh Ritter by being at once familiar and new is intriguing—regardless of his downtrodden vocal source.

Finding just the right opening sentence for a book is a challenge for any novelist.  As much as a book’s cover, the opening line is the place for snap judgements about whether to give a book your time.  Make an impression with a few well-chosen words and the reader is yours—at least until the dull patch around page 50 where they decide that they have better things to do.

In Camus’ The Plague, the character Joseph Grand agonises endlessly over his novel’s first sentence (“One fine morning in the month of May…”) hoping to make an editor exclaim “Hats off, gentlemen!”  He probably should have been content to avoid the fate of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Despite such contributions to the English language as “the almighty dollar” and “the pen is mightier than the sword”, Lord Lytton has been immortalised as the creator of the worst opening sentence ever.

To be fair, “It was a dark and stormy night” (from Paul Clifford) isn’t all that bad—and Lytton isn’t to blame for the cliché it’s become.  But a byword for bad writing it is, with San Jose State University’s annual Bulwer-Lytton Prize for worst opening sentence in an imaginary novel recently announced for 2008.

At least this prize is made-up, unlike the true brutality of Auberon Waugh’s Bad Sex Award—which exists to bring down actual writers.  This is a prize to stretch the imagination—and apparently we can imagine some truly awful first sentences.  What the rest of the novels would be like had they existed is best not considered.

The winning sentence (from Garrison Spik of Washington DC) is priceless:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.”

The full list of notable entries is overwhelming and full of horrendous metaphors, similies and even the occasional single entendre:

She had the kind of body that made a man want to have sex with her. (Barry J. Drucker, Bentonville, AR)

There’s a true art in creating something so atrocious and it can only make you wonder what these writers generate when writing “properly”.

It’s never fun to bury a friend, especially one you’ve watched wither away and die right before your eyes. Harder still is the realization that, for many, this onetime companion continues to live on, bigger and brighter than ever. Two decades ago, a perfect little trilogy was formed, a series of science fiction films that took the genre into worlds of unbelievable imagination and action-oriented invention. Spawned from this matinee mannered speculation was a fanbase so devoted, so affected by what creator George Lucas had wrought that they supported each and every facet of its growing legacy. Even horrific examples of capitalization like the Wookie-ccentric Christmas Special held a special place in the hearts of the devoted.

But now it can be said with some certainty - Star Wars is dead. No, not literally. As long as there are novices, unaware of the backstory that began in the year of the Bicentennial, the cash flush franchise will continue to live long and prosper (to borrow a superior series’ sentiment). Yet in my eyes at least, the beloved story of Luke Skywalker, his Dark Lord father Darth Vader, and the rise and fall of the Republic/Empire ceased to exist last week. True, the motion picture monopoly had been on life support ever since the cancer that was the prequels reared their ill-conceived incompetence. And at the moment the horrible Hayden Christiansen became the black man-machine menace, screaming a sophomoric “NO!” over his fate, Wars was, in my view, clutching for breath.

But with the arrival of the kid-friendly flotsam known as The Clone Wars, the last vestiges of the original trilogy have been officially purged from the myth’s creative corpse. It’s not just the grade school age focus of the new animated movie (and eventual TV series), or the poorly rendered cartooning that turns adored characters into cake decoration versions of their former selves. In fact, one could argue that the very reason Clone killed the original Wars was due to an overabundance of ambitions. In an attempt to broaden the concept’s appeal, and pull in even more fans to the fray, Lucas and his Skywalker Ranch regulars have figured out a way to alienate the very individuals who gave him his dollar-driven dynasty in the first place.

We need to get a few things out of the way right up front. I admit that I have been very harsh on Lucas and his Hutt goitered grandstanding ever since he made it perfectly clear that his old fans need not apply to the prequel’s Jar-Jar jive. His love of money and the million ways he can successfully shill his sparse space operatics have given rise to many a rant - and often over-pitched ridiculousness. But as someone who stood in line for nearly seven hours to see the original Star Wars - sans Special Edition tweaks - upon release, and then went on to sit through it seven more times (a personal record for the ‘70s) I believed I earned the right to vent. 

Of course, no one could have anticipated the diabolical double cross that was the updated digital versions of the classic Wars triptych. In retrospect, an artist has every right to tweak his creations to fit his final designs, and Lucas does own everything in that galaxy far, far away. But his early attitude - the original films would NEVER again be seen in their un-doctored state - indicated a despotic delusion and disinterest. Not just with those who supported him through the tough times, but for the very artform he was working in. Say what you want about the Special Editions (good, bad, indifferent, what?) but the flash free version of Episode IV was actually nominated for an Oscar. Imagine the uproar if someone, say Steven Spielberg, took Jaws and added a digital shark. You get the idea.

Yet it was the moment the prequels were announced that the fanbase took sides. Some wondered why it took Lucas so long to realize his original aims (he had announced an eventual series of nine films to fill out the franchise), while others smelled a revisionist rat. Fast forward several years, and the foul stench of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and the highly over-praised Revenge of the Sith continues to permeate the Star Wars universe. While the films have their champions, most consider them pale comparisons to the movies that first fired their intense motion picture passions.

So how exactly does The Clone Wars obliterate the last remaining vestiges of the old Wars world? Easy - it treats it like it doesn’t exist. Clone is the first film in the entire Lucas legacy that feels like it was made out of something different. Maybe it’s the technology, or the introduction of random new characters that will NEVER be referenced again in any other Star Wars storyline (that is, until the new ‘Ultra Special Editions’ come out, right?). Perhaps it’s the general dumbing down of everything to fit a Saturday Morning cartoon mentality. It could be the unnecessary nature of the project, considering that Lucas had already commission material like this from animator Genndy Tartakovsky and his Cartoon Network crew.

Whatever it is, Clone Wars plays like someone’s bad interpretation of what Star Wars should be. From the infantile way the new padawan, Ashoka is portrayed (critical comparisons to Hannah Montana are not that far off) to the shocking pseudo hate crime that is Ziro the Hutt, everything here in rendered is regressive, aggressively adolescent tones. Sure, we see some interesting space battles, including a vertical assault that really captures the thrills of old, but when tempered by Jabba’s drag queen Uncle and his equally annoying son (a baby slug lovingly referred to as “Stinky”), the visuals dim and then disappear.

Indeed, the moment Ziro opened his Truman Capote piehole (a voice mandate from Master George himself, so the story goes), I felt my affection for Star Wars finally die. I recognized that I had been a fool for falling for Lucas’ line time and time again. I remembered my dismay at the way he handled the romance between Anakin and Padme. I re-winced at dialogue that sounded like badly written middle school mush notes. As with every other piece of this seemingly infinite creation, I tried to process it and put it into perspective. I could argue for its comic value - if only barely - but as the performance continued, the flamboyance fostered nothing but rage. And then grief.

Over at Ain’t It Cool News, Drew McWeeny - aka Moriarity - has decided to stop writing about Star Wars forever. His decision comes from a combination of things: an issue over embargo dates; his ongoing distrust of Lucas’ intentions; the rabid response to his opinions on messageboards and comment lists; a personal ‘enough is enough’. Yet one imagines that, like me, he’s sick of figuring out ways to defend his fandom, especially in light of what’s going on now. As Clone ramps up for a Fall premiere, and a live action TV series scouts locations in Australia, it’s clear that the old guard aficionados who kept the franchise afloat between bouts of sequel/prequel/trequel-itis are no longer important to Wars’ world. In that regard, more than any other, it’s time for us to return the favor.

Call it a eulogy or a grand kiss off, but I’m done. Star Wars is dead, at least to me. Somehow, it doesn’t seem all that surprising. Or sad.

On episode 10 of Live from Abbey Road (Sundance Channel, Thursday, August 21st at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific), the Subways discuss how the three-piece dynamic adds to the energy and adaptability of the band, and claims that each member is so excited by the songs that the band brings exactly the same fervor to playing for 10 people in a studio as it brings to playing for 10,000 in a stadium supporting Foo Fighters. Then the performance proves those claims. Drummer Josh Morgan plays as though his life depends upon it, and guitarist Billy Lunn and bassist Charlotte Cooper shout out their shared vocal duties while dancing all across the studio floor and diving from the bass drum during “Oh Yeah” from 2005’s Young For Eternity. “Strawberry Blonde” and “I Won’t Let You Down” from this year’s Butch Vig-produced All or Nothing demonstrate some serious songwriting chops while still showcasing what Lunn calls The Subways’ “ferocity”.

From ferocity to funk and fun, Gnarls Barkley performs tracks from 2008’s The Odd Couple. “Whatever” seems slow to start at first, but builds, layer-like, until Cee-Lo’s smooth delivery and Danger Mouse’s spellbinding melody has filled up every speck of space in the studio. “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” are each equally and hypnotically compelling, riveting in a way completely contrasting the Subways segment before it. Gnarls Barkley’s gift—that of seamlessly combining both creative personalities, both approaches and both sides of life—shows even more clearly here than it has on past work.

Herbie Hancock saw bringing the past into his present as a welcome challenge. He performs two tracks from his Grammy winning River: The Joni Letters. Accompanying vocalist Sonya Kitchell on “All I Want” and “Court and Spark”, Hancock is the consummate bandleader, stately and sedate playing his part in a quiet study of perfection, all the while finessing, caressing,  commanding the performances of the musicians around him. It’s the polar opposite of the energy displayed at the beginning of the episode, but in no way less energetic.

Upcoming Line-ups:

Episode 11 - August 28
Bryan Adams, Ben Harper, Justin Currie

Episode 12 - September 4
Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson

 

Joshuah Bearman’s epic investigation of the pursuit of “kill screens” in classic video games in last month’s Harper’s is truly, as Bearman promises, “the most readable and entertaining look at the metaphysical implications of competitive Pac Man yet to appear!” It’s highly recommended, even if you don’t know what Space Port was.

I have nothing profound to say about the article, except that it is awesome. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

For Billy, though, there is always the question of going further. Back in his van, we talk about what is known in classic-gaming argot as the “kill screen.” This is the edge of the universe, the place where instructions end. Billy has seen a lot of kill screens. Pac-Man comes to a halt at level 256, as the program runs out of code and the entire right side of the screen is engulfed by senseless symbols. Circus Charlie just freezes. Donkey Kong ends after five seconds on level 22. The first time Billy reached the impassable final level of Dig Dug, he lost all 400 of his free men. Then there is Galaga, which eventually closes in solitude. After everything comes nothing: No enemy armada. No music. No score. Just you and the existential void. Other games end in violence. In Burgertime, Billy says, the kill screen came ot level 28, which he describes as the most chaotic moment he has ever experienced. The fried egg and hot dog and pickles chased him around so aggressively that Billy took it as a cruelly encoded joke. That did not prevent him from attempting to breach Burgertime’s event horizon. Everyone said it was impossible, but he had to know: Is there more?

//Blogs

The Best and Worst Films of Spring 2015

// Short Ends and Leader

"January through April is a time typically made up of award season leftovers, pre-summer spectacle, and more than a few throwaways. Here are PopMatters' choices for the best and worst of the last four months.

READ the article