I’ve always loved this song even if Dwight Twilley was probably the poor man’s Cheap Trick with many more misses than he ever had hits. Even though this is more properly categorized as power pop, I love tamped down glam aspects of the song, particularly the flirtatious mouth movements, batted eyelashes and scrawny boy hip swivel. Not to mention Susan Cowsill barely breaking a sweat in her shades as she blasts out “Free, Free, Free” like Queen singing songs from “Hair”. Even though they were contemporaries of T. Rex, they’re clearly avoiding the tarted up look that would soon overtake and eventually undermine glam rock. Nothing says we’re power pop like your mom’s sweat shirt. Still, the song has some absolutely soaring moments even if you can’t tell if it’s a straight-up come on or an insult wrapped in a come on. Essentially, it’s a riotously harmonized chorus telling the object of his affection that she/he doesn’t have a love, so, well, why not? And, if I’m not mistaken he also seems to suggest that he couldn’t wait to be single, but now he’s “on fire”. Of course, this pre-dates the hair band days where everyone’s eyes were suddenly “on fire” and the metaphor became duly limp.
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The new Gnarls Barkley video looks like a Saturday morning educational video invoking. The 1970s, tomorrow and beaded yesterdays still to be imagined. This video about a group of friends who find a portal to another dimension says that the future is mystical and not technological. It says that the future happens in Africa, however vague that is.
But what starts out an exuberant celebration for many becomes a strenuous journey survived by few. For the leaders, or the “brave leader” and his fierce girlfriend, exuberance becomes fatigue and anxiety, whittled down to reverence by the time we get to the end. The two remaining heroes kneel like sprinters before the do or that they set up at the meeting between worlds. Their victory offers more questions than answers.
These two heroes a man and a woman, are lovers, and champions. Maybe we are meant to understand that these two heroes are Gnarls Barkley, an odd couple “going on” to another world that the rest of the music industry isn’t strong or brave enough to enter.
The heroism of the final duo is complicated by the gender politics and love relationship that the song and the video present. I wonder about what levels of love are meant and residing there in words that seem to be spoken by the male hero. The video put the words into the mouth of the lead man, and projects them onto the sometimes smiling, sometimes pained, sometimes pensive face of the lead woman. I wonder if the words about there “being a place for you too” are for her? Who exactly is supposed to get left behind gender of us to be left behind while male explorers forge forward again? What divides her from the “lead man” what connects her to him? Their movements are similar, the framing of the video makes it seem that a love relationship connects them, but the words to the song, which seem to be about leaving someone behind while also projecting that person into the future seem to divide the two characters.
Most explicitly the command “don’t follow me” made in words that seem to come out of the portal doorway after the man jumps could be meant for the woman who follows and jumps through the doorway, just as athletically anyway. If the words come to the viewing audience from both of the jumpers… why are they timed between the two jumps? Is the woman actor or audience in this video?
Either way… I’m going to keep watching.
By coincidence, I spent Memorial Day in the town where the holiday was born: Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which is in Centre County a few miles from State College. The town naturally tries to milk this designation for all its worth and holds a day-long festival with Civil War reenactments, a maypole dance, local school kids reading patriotic essays, folk music (we heard “Roll Out the Barrel,” a Pennsyl-tucky favorite), and a parade that culminates at the cemetery where Memorial Day first occurred. (The festival also coincided with the Boalsburg Firehouse Carnival, where I played 25-cent Bingo and ate funnel cake. I steered clear of the deep-fried dill pickle.)
Along with the festivities were booths lining the town’s two main streets from which people (local artisans mostly) sold a variety of tchotchkes. Much of this was what you’d expect—quilts, soaps, candles, Penn State toilet-seat covers, homemade scrubbies, salad-dressing kits, wrought-iron garden ornaments, caricature drawings, hand-lettered wooden plaques with such slogans as “What happens in the Hot Tub stays in the Hot Tub” and “It’s hard to be pretentious in flip-flops,” bird feeders, wooden jewelry and whatnot. A lot of it was reminiscent of faintly discreditable stuff you’d see advertised on late-night TV or home-shopping channels, products that seem novel for a moment, before you realize how unnecessary or how unlikely to deliver on their promises they are. I end up feeling skeptical, thinking that the stuff would be sold in “real stores” if it were any good—you see how the retailers have me right where they want me. (The aura of authenticity that retail stores cast over their merchandise is of course a carefully calibrated accomplishment akin to the brand equity produced for products through advertising.)
Craft fairs don’t rely on bargain pricing, an approach the TV hucksters sometimes try. With the merchandise at craft fairs, room for bartering is typically built into the prices of the doodads on offer, but they also include what might be considered an anti-tariff, a fee meant to remind buyers that these are artisan-made goods, built by craftspeople and local artists and not Chinese factory workers (even when the goods are in fact Chinese imports, as was the case at a few booths). The extra expense (which in theory would drive consumers to choose cheaper foreign-made alternatives) serves as a kind of guarantee of that, it reinforces the feeling one gets in shopping at craft fairs in the first place: “I’m supporting local people, real people.” Buying local goods is environmentally beneficial (saves on transport costs), but ethnocentrism seems to be the main feature of craft fairs, even when some particular kind of folk art is not specified by the occasion. Ethnocentrism and a chance to indulge pious nostalgia for hardy craftsmanship may even be considered the primary goods for sale at such events. More important than the good is the connection established with a particular artisan, the good becomes a souvenir for that good feeling of providing patronage.
What struck me most about my Boalsburg experience, though, was one particular booth that had some moody lithographs and spare, unsentimental prints—a silhouette of birds congregated on a telephone pole, set at an ominous angle with the frame, for example. Nothing wildly original, but clearly an entirely different aesthetic sensibility than that embodied by the bedazzled teddy bears to be seen elsewhere. The booth’s proprietor was not a middle-aged flea-market veteran, as with most of the others, but a woman in her mid-20s, probably a recent art-school graduate who made the most likely difficult choice to give an honest go at trying to sell her work to a paying crowd. In the past, I might have found her to be sad, sort of pathetic, and quite possibly would have considered her to be some sort of sellout. But I see that impulse now as a defense mechanism, because I know I lack the bravery to do something like that. I wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection or the ego bruising that comes with general indifference to one’s precious creativity when it’s put on display.
The woman at the fair seemed to me more sincere about her work than, say, artists in established artists’ neighborhoods in hipster districts, amid an audience of friends and fellow “artists” who won’t bother to challenge their conceptions of what artists should do—which seem to be to elect one another to an elite class of art appreciators and applaud one another’s originality and distinct vision. They make art as part of a lifestyle, and teh lifestyle draws a circle around itself and wards away the outside world. The woman in Boalsburg confronted that outside world directly. It seemed to me that she wasn’t out to be recognized as an artist so much as she was trying to send her work out into the world where it might do something other than serve as a testimony to her sense of self. There’s a good chance that she probably didn’t sell a thing all day, but for me, anyway, she was the jar on the hill in the Wallace Stevens poem.
“Second album from this Leeds pop group that stands tall with classics from the likes of The Go-Betweens, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice.”—Slumberland Records
The Good Old Days [MP3]
The Conversation [MP3]
A Year Since Last Summer [MP3]
The Sun and the Neon Light [MP3]
Council Estate [Video]
Blue Driver [MP3]
Buy at Rhapsody
Fresh Air Traverse [MP3]
Buy at iTunes Music Store
“Organic, soulful and refreshingly contemporary, Presto has spent the last decade perfecting a production style that infuses hard-hitting hip hop beats with an ethereal touch of jazz.”—Concrete Grooves
Conquer Mentally (feat. Sadat X, O.C., & Large Professor) [MP3]
Pour Another Glass (feat. Blu) [MP3]
On (feat. LOWD) [MP3]
He got his start like most pre post-modern moviemakers, via the still struggle medium of ‘50s/‘60s television. There, his approach was allowed to take root and flourish. He had actually begun his career as an actor, appearing in productions for such stalwart shows as Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Before that, he had studied his craft with the famous teacher Sanford Meisner. Not bad for an Indiana boy born of troubled first generation Russian immigrant parents. His father was a boxer turned druggist, his mother was an alcoholic who died when Sydney was 16. Now, with his own passing from stomach cancer at age 73, Hollywood has lost one of its solid cinematic artists.
Pollack first came to prominence after a stint onstage, when he co-stared with future lifelong friend Robert Redford in the film War Hunt. The two formed an instant bond and would go on to work together for nearly 45 years, Pollack directing his pal in the films This Property is Condemned, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, The Electric Horseman, Out of Africa, and Havana. In fact, over the course of his career, Pollack featured Redford in nearly a third of the 20 movies he made. He also worked regularly with such old school stars as Burt Lancaster (The Scalphunters, Castle Keep) and Robert Mitchum (The Yakuza), and later made two films with contemporary macho man Harrison Ford (Random Hearts and the Sabrina redux).
Like Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, Pollack brought the dramatic intensity of his days in the theater and TV to the fledgling revolution occurring in film. His style could best be summed up by the brilliant social commentary They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Set within a Depression era dance-a-thon, and featuring fiery performances by Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, and Oscar Winner Gig Young, Pollack uncovered the simmering unease of the era, perfectly reflecting the film’s contemporary 1969 mirror message. His movies were like that - quiet and subtle, selling their conceits in perfectly modulated performances and expertly helmed scenes. And like his fellow filmmakers of the era, Pollack wasn’t afraid to try.
He did so with the old fashioned romance The Way We Were, though that movie also tackled subjects like racism and political unrest. Jeremiah Johnson was a pure post-modern Western, an anti-establishment look at one man defying nature to live at personal peace. Three Days of the Condor took the Watergate hangover and cast it as part of an international intelligence Cold War malaise, while The Electric Horseman argued against fame and for those who would sidestep the spotlight to live freely, and happily. Many of the heroes in Pollack’s films defy the odds to be their own person, be it the US ex-pat caught up in Castro’s Cuban revolution, or a young associate taking on a crew of crooked lawyers.
As an actor, Pollack frequently blurred the line between good and evil. In what is perhaps his most memorable turn, he was the confused agent in Tootsie who can’t understand Dustin Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey, and frankly, doesn’t want to. Conned into playing the part by the superstar himself, the director gives an amazingly unhinged turn. In Woody Allen’s searing Husbands and Wives, Pollack is the midlife crisis middle ager who tears his bimbette girlfriend down every chance he gets. He’s horrific and abusive. When Harvey Keitel couldn’t continue on with Stanley Kubrick’s arduous shooting schedule, Pollack stepped in and essayed the role of Victor Ziegler in Eyes Wide Shut, and most recently, he was George Clooney’s image conscious boss in the thriller Michael Clayton.
Oddly enough, his peak probably came in the early ‘80s when Out of Africa took home seven Academy Awards, including one for Pollack as Best Director. He had been nominated before - and definitely deserved the statues - for Tootsie and They Shoot Horses, but the epic Meryl Streep/Robert Redford weeper was the kind of effort that Oscar is naturally drawn to. After that success, his follow-up Havana flopped, and while The Firm was a hit (thanks to Tom Cruise and the John Grisham pedigree), Sabrina and Random Hearts also tanked.
The Interpreter, a 2005 suspense piece starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, was the director’s last fiction film, and first foray behind the lens in nearly six years. During his absence, which was more or less self imposed, Pollack had played producer, adding titles like The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Quiet American, and Cold Mountain to his resume. The recent death of collaborator and friend Anthony Minghella hit Pollack hard. It wasn’t the first time tragedy had hit so close to home. In the early ‘90s, Steven, Pollack’s only son with wife Claire Griswold (they met at the Neighborhood Theater in New York, and were married for nearly 50 years) died in a light plane crash.
Today, the director is survived by his spouse, two daughters, and six grandchildren. Oddly enough, Pollack himself was an avid pilot, flying his own private aircraft. It was a trait he shared with co-star John Travolta when the two appeared in A Civil Action together. In 2006, the director offered up what would be his last film - the unlikely documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry. When asked to describe the allure of the subject matter, the filmmaker was deceptively honest. Apparently, Pollack was so intrigued by his first glimpse of the famed Guggenheim Museum that he became psychologically obsessed with the architect and his body of work.
It’s safe to say that, like this love letter to an unsung builder and dreamer, most of Sydney Pollack’s films were missives to men and women marginalized and unsung - and usually undeservingly so. He championed the underdog and understood the human foibles inside the heroic. As a filmmaker, he was approachable and affable, eager to teach and pass on what he knew. While no one is suggesting his films changed the course of cinema, they did establish a kind of abject professionalism that many of his compatriots from the ‘60s and ‘70s couldn’t command. He didn’t set out to deconstruct the medium or revise it into his own aesthetic likeness. Instead, Sydney Pollack made solid, substantive films. His is an onscreen voice and a behind the scenes presence that the artform will sorely miss.