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by John Bohannon

4 Jul 2009

John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice has paid a decade of dues writing infectious, subtle pop grooves for the masses. His latest record, Romanian Names, is one of the most solid efforts from start to finish in his career, full of vigor and life. Unfortunately, the tracks haven’t been developed to their full potential in a live setting, falling somewhat flat compared to his elder material. In all fairness, it could’ve been an off night at Nashville’s Exit/In, but the band didn’t seem into it and it seemed a great deed to get Vanderslice himself into the performance. It also doesn’t help that half the audience left after the opener, one of the songwriting world’s most secret weapons, the Tallest Man on Earth.

by Rob Horning

3 Jul 2009

I found the weirdly joyous response by some of the most renowned bloggers  to this interesting post about the death of the freewheeling blogosphere of old a little unseemly, an object lesson of what a small world that it is among them. They all seem to lament the loss of “charm” from blogging, since it is no longer a casual activity for them. Yes, they seem to collectively be saying, we were once young and foolish and not as professional as we should have been, but our social capital pulled through for us in the end. Our example proved that the blogosphere was nothing revolutionary, just a new tool for the ambitious to display their talents and make useful connections. It’s sort of a bummer that all those new voices allegedly coming from outside the established power networks in America will continue to be ignored, but oh well! We are all paid pundits now!

Of course I don’t blame them for professionalizing—would that I were paid for blogging. But with professionalization comes all the customary ways in which the fantasy of “meritocracy” is thwarted, or rather, the fantasy that raw merit could triumph over a lack of soft-power skills—cozying up to idols, self-promoting without being annoying, etc., etc. The promise of the blogosphere early on was that it was to provide a new path to the public sphere, a way for new voices to be heard. But instead it was just a new media for journalists to do their woodshedding. I think the idea that you could make it big in the blogopsphere was always a bit of a distortion, since those people who did make it big most likely would have succeeded in journalism anyway. What seemed to have happened is that the early bloggers formed a network and were able to help each other along into the establishment as they began to advance in their careers. In the past, those sort of networks would not unfold in a public forum, as they did in blogs with all the reciprocal links and log-rolling. If the charm is gone in a certain sector of the blogosphere, it’s because the pretense that it’s not an audition for big media punditry has been dropped.

Still, when Ezra Klein writes, “The blogosphere isn’t thrumming with the joyous, raucous, weirdness of the early years. And that’s a shame. But the upside is that it’s more careful. It reports and investigates and uncovers”, he’s mainly referring to his generation of analysts and journalists. I’m guessing he doesn’t bother to read around much in the weird blog world that is certainly still out there (and I’m sure there is a lot of “charm” in the non-professional blogging and video making and so on happening online), because he has a responsibility to keep up with all the big league pundits and have opinions about them. Professional opinion makers who now write blog posts as part of their repertoire for their job are naturally going to assimilate journalistic seriousness to their practice. Laura, the author of the original post, argues that this has somehow made the blogosphere “less hierarchical”—I’m not sure if that is a typo, but it seems that the hierarchy has reasserted itself almost totally, in that most of the bloggers that people link to are established in a reputable big media post or an established think tank. Bloggers establish credibility by becoming affiliated to established brands, by publishing under well-respected banners. It is harder now to create a brand for yourself that extends its reach beyond Facebook, the base camp for inconsequential self-branding.

What was revolutionary about blogging then is merely that it allowed those traditional networks to metastasize in front of the jealous outsiders who, with their own unacknowledged blogs, feel even more bereft. They perpetuate for those outsiders the idea that the world is somehow rigged, and help them continue to fail to see that part of “merit” is the ability to push your meritorious work among the people who can bring it wider repute. In other words, blogging seemed a way to sneak around the whole self-marketing thing—you just put your awesome writing online and wait for the plaudits to roll in. But of course that doesn’t happen. Instead, it is tempting to do even less of the self-marketing, since the work is already out there, and easier to become overwhelmingly discouraged, since it is being ignored. Talent is a matter of taking your own work seriously, and the “freewheeling world of the blogosphere” early on had the illusion of being a place where such serious career-mindedness wasn’t necessary. Now we know better.

by Bill Gibron

3 Jul 2009

As writers, we are taught to avoid clichés. Avoid them like the plague. Avoid them like red-headed step-children at a reunion. As a literary shortcut they supposedly show sloppiness and a lack of imagination. In movies, we criticize them as an easy out to what are typically tough interpersonal or narrative problems. In fact, any film or filmmaker that relies on said truisms to tell their tale is usually raked over the coals, read the riot act, and run out of town on a rail. But not Giuseppe Andrews. As a multitalented hyphenate who can seemingly master all media - written, visual, aural, philosophical - he’s perhaps the only auteur working in independent cinema that could take the tried, the tacky, and the sometimes true and work it into a wonderful dissertation on the usual family struggles and strife.

Tired of living under a bridge like a troll, middle-aged homeless man Ronzoni decides to reconnect with his roots. Buying a bowling ball as a Christmas gift, he heads out to visit his retired father and distant sister Agatha who live in a local trailer park. Unfortunately, they both think he’s a wholly worthless bum. When a large box lands on his chest, Ronzoni is stuck behind his dad’s double wide and no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to get the empty cardboard container off his body. Wanting to escape his incessantly whining, the pair head off to a hotel. There, Agatha meets Nicholas, an in-room escort who opens her eyes to the joy of music and the fun of making anti-porno. Eventually, the duo checks out and heads back to the park, only to discover that Ronzoni has been freed. While his fate is more than uncertain, father and daughter agree - their relative was a real piece of sh*t.

With its groovy gimmick and visual experimentation, Long Row to Hoe reminds the Andrews’ purist of just how amazingly gifted this gonzo filmmaker can be. From his simple storytelling approach to his constant narrative counterpunches, he can take the most menial material and make it into a masterpiece. With his always solid cast including the reliable Vietnam Ron, Ed, Marybeth Spychalski, and Walter Patterson, and the relatively new location of a local park to accent his typical trailer towns, Andrews offers us a theater of the absurd masked as the everyday grind of a biological back and forth. Ronzoni clearly has issues with both of his relatives. His father has nothing but foul words for his wayward son, while Agatha blames him for everything odd and unruly in her life - including a strange piece of frozen meat she finds in her freezer.

Both would rather see him gone for good rather than part of their life, and when he ends up wailing away in the backyard, they can’t wait to escape. When they return from their trip to the hotel however, their nonchalant reaction to his apparent disappearance marks their true, unfettered feelings. Andrews clearly understands how most kinfolk interact. Holidays are horror films where false fronts have to be prepared and put on just to get through the difficulties of the day, and with Ronzoni and his apparent lack of legitimacy, such an act is even more difficult. Ed’s aggravated responses to Ron’s sheepish apologies argue for how deep this hatred runs, and this is one of the reasons Long Row to Hoe is so potent. We rarely see families in such a full on mode of hatred. Sadly, there’s a lot of bile built up over the years when it comes to this tragic trio.


As a storyteller, Andrews loves the obvious symbol. Ronzoni is crushed by an empty box, something that should be simple to remove. No one can, however and it tends to confirm his reportedly useless nature. The sheer futility of such a set-up mirrors the attempts by Agatha and Dad to get the hopeless hobo out of their life. Similarly, when the pair rent a room for the night, the arrival of an in-room escort offers the eye-opening reaction to the outside world that our heroine has rarely had the opportunity to experience. The entire anti-porno sequence, filled with repeated visual jokes and silly sight gags, also offers its own unique perspectives. For a couple of young people, including one paid to act as the other’s consensual companion, to simply aim their camera and manufacture superficiality says a lot about the interpersonal skills and passion of all involved.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Giuseppe Andrews film without its freak show element, but this time, it’s the words that act as oddities. Hearing Dad talk to his chair-bound buddy in a series of senseless chestnuts, one well worn maxim after another tossed freely into the air, we begin to sense a clear cut creative purpose. Andrews is visibly striving to show how communication without truth is just that - an endless string of pointless words that lack a legitimacy and a meaning. This happens many times in Long Row to Hoe - characters will break out in cliché couplets, their thoughts now clouded by a phraseology that suggests something while literally saying nothing. It’s not all that novel for Andrews. He’s used curse words and scatology in a similar manner before. But with clichés, the message becomes even more consequential. All the admonishments about using such communicative shorthand are true. They honestly add nothing to the tête-à-tête.

If art is life reflected in a wholly original and unique manner, then Long Row to Hoe is a piecemeal Picasso. It’s a Vermeer minus the brilliant use of light, an avant-garde gemstone in a showcase filled with carefully cut glass. Andrews continues to author one of the most amazing cinematic oeuvres ever, a day-in-the-life briefing of the most meaningful bits of life’s fringe findings. From the homeless to the housed, the sensible to the strange, he has long since taken his place as the troubadour for the downtrodden and the champion for their challenged. As clichéd accolades go, he’s as good as it gets, and there truly are none better. But beyond such simple sentiments, Giuseppe Andrews continues to shock and amaze, not only with his growth as a filmmaker, but with his seemingly endless fount of creative fuel. On paper, Long Row to Hoe sounds superficial, perhaps even silly. In execution, it’s electric.

by PopMatters Staff

3 Jul 2009

Last Night in Montreal
by Emily St. John Mandel
(Unbridled Books)
Released: 2 June 2009 (US)

LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL follows the intersecting lives of four people: Lilia, a twenty-something who mysteriously disappeared during childhood; Eli, who tries to hold on to her and then tries to let her go; Christopher, the private detective who remains obsessed with Lilia’s case; and Michaela, the detective’s daughter, who is as rootless as Lilia—and who knows the answers Lilia seeks. A beautifully written, almost poetic tale of loss and love, of sacrifice and abandonment, and of finding a way home, this novel is an hypnotic read, one that casts a spell.

by Tommy Marx

3 Jul 2009

Garth Brooks is one of the most successful singers of all time. In the United States alone, he has sold more than 68 million copies of his albums since 1991 (when Nielsen Soundscan began monitoring sales), and only the Beatles have sold more albums in American history. He was largely responsible for the massive growth in popularity of country music during the ‘90s, and he has consistently broken box office records when he toured.

Yet, for all of his huge success, he only had one song reach the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Even more incredibly, his only major mainstream hit wasn’t one of his 19 #1 singles on the Hot Country Songs chart. It wasn’t even officially released to country radio and peaked #62 on the country chart as an album cut.

This is the story of the “Lost” one-hit wonder.

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