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Tuesday, Dec 23, 2008

James Taylor: isn’t he supposed to be the antithesis of a songwriter like Elvis Costello? Isn’t that what we were once taught, those of us who grew up seeking alternatives to the hold-overs of AM radio’s “soft rock” rein—Taylor, the sanitized, mother-approved opposite of a dangerous, subversive character like Costello?


I’ve been guilty of thinking this way before, of championing something that skirts outside the mainstream’s straight-and-narrow merely to satisfy my own contrarian agendas. And yet, this isn’t a healthy way to think, nor a healthy way to absorb music (or the possibilities offered by any experience, for that matter). There is room in our lives for both the James Taylors and the Elvis Costellos of this world: this is a truth that should be self-evident, but is not, and so it is a truth that the fourth episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel) makes ringingly clear.


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Friday, Dec 19, 2008

An important new study has been published in the most recent British Medical Journal. The title: “Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass.”


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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2008

Elvis becomes the other Elvis for the third episode of his weekly show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel), performing covers of “Mystery Train” and “Baby, Let’s Play House”. Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher are the rock-solid rhythm section, while nimble-fingered James Burton (formerly of Presley’s TCB band in the 1970s) handles lead guitar duties. The band shines, especially Burton, whose licks ripple up and down the guitar’s neck; Costello, on the other hand, takes too many liberties with the lyric’s phrasing, eventually throwing Faragher’s harmony vocal for a loop.


Despite its somewhat wobbly course, “Mystery Train” is an apt way to welcome native Arkansan and former President Bill Clinton, who speaks with Costello at length about music, politics, and the ways in which the two subjects often intersect.


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Tuesday, Dec 16, 2008
More revelations like this, and we may be approaching DEFCON 1 status in terms of authentic rock and roll debauchery.

From The Smoking Gun, an update on the infamous Van Halen M&M myth here (good news, it’s not a myth; bad news: it is, apparently, explicable):


“While the underlined rider entry (“M & M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES”) has often been described as an example of rock excess, the outlandish demand of multimillionaires, the group has said the M&M provision was included to make sure that promoters had actually read its lengthy rider. If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance—lighting, staging, security, ticketing—may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.”


So, one of the most notorious instances of pop star prima donna antics is debunked, and for what turns out to be (ostensibly) legitimate reasons? That is almost enough to make one…respect Van Halen. And, well, I’m sorry but that is simply unacceptable.


Actually, even if this turns out to be the case (the band was as anal about their onstage performances as they were about their back-stage performances), it’s more difficult to dismiss them as the biggest buffoons in rock. Wait, no it isn’t. This is, after all, the band with David Lee Roth in it. This is the band that, once David Lee Roth left, never made any good music (man, that has to kill Eddie Van Halen). It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Eddie, knowing he had to work with David Lee Roth all those years. Then you realize: wait, Eddie might be even more insufferable than David Lee Roth! (Exhibit A: “Hey Michael Anthony, we’re finally doing that reunion tour thing; all the shows are sold out in advance…by the way, you’re not invited!”) But hey, I’m sure fans were delighted to see those stellar backing vocals provided by Eddie’s cherubic son Wolfgang (and by cherubic I mean chubby).


But more importantly, if we start acknowledging that some of these Spinal-Tap-inspiring anecdotes are not based in reality, we may be obliged to begin questioning how debased our rock gods actually were, back in the day. What’s next? Jimmy Page was actually just eating tuna fish on that boat? Gene Simmons did not bed 4,000 women? (Well, considering that Simmons, like David Lee Roth, is so obviously gay, this one is not such a stretch to disbelieve). Mick Jagger and David Bowie were just making sweet music together, literally? Ozzy Osbourne did not actually urinate on the Alamo in the early ’80s? (That would be the unkindest cut of all; I need Ozzy to have urinated on the Alamo.)


All this on the heels of the news that guitar guru Brian May just completed his PhD (!), in Astronomy (!!). More revelations like this and we may well be approaching DEFCON 1 status in terms of authentic rock and roll debauchery. James Hetfield? Clean and sober. Nikki Sixx? Same. Courtney Love? (Who cares). Practically all the others have now become the designated drivers that Keith Moon, John Bonham and Janis Joplin (to name a handful of favorite hard-cases) could have used, back in the day. At least we can still count on Keith Richards, right? Well, except for the fact that it’s pretty apparent even he doesn’t know who he is these days. Too many brown M&Ms will do that to you, apparently.


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Thursday, Dec 11, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Stefan Marolachakis from the End of the World talks to 20 Questions. The Brooklyn band's latest album French Exit came out on Flameshovel Records this fall.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I got a little choked up when I saw Man on Wire, the documentary about Philippe Petit. He’s the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers the year they were erected. It’s the most poetic movie I’ve seen in a long time. Oh, and I almost found myself crying when I went to see Ghost Town, the Ricky Gervais vehicle, in Chicago last week. I guess a good hangover can make you a little emotionally vulnerable.


2. The fictional character most like you?
I’d like to say George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life). Maybe we can throw in a dash of David Addison (Bruce Willis on Moonlighting).


3. The greatest album ever?
Today it’s a toss up between Beggar’s Banquet and Let It Be (The Replacements’ one). I’ll say side two of Tattoo You. That sets the right mood for me these days. Best album ever is just an impossible question.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars for sure. Han Solo was a hell of a guy. I could never relate to anybody on Star Trek—except for when Spock laid the hammer down on the guy with the boombox in Star Trek IV. I enjoyed that.


5. Your ideal brain food?
Anything new. The less I fall into routine, the better. Variety keeps the brain strong.


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