Tag Archives: culture

Video Fridays: Van Morrison – 1973

van-morrisonI’ve got a real treat for this week’s Video Fridays installment!

An Irish singer-songwriter I’m fond of, and who I’ve written about here before, Glen Hansard, tweeted this clip today of his fellow Irishman singer-songwriter, Van Morrison, performing his song Cyprus Avenue, from an amazing 1973 concert, and it is SO great on a number of levels.

First of all, there are singer-songwriters, lead vocalists, even frontmen/women, but not all of these are also bandleaders. And, if you’ve ever read up on Van Morrison you’d know that he was extremely picky about the musicians who played with him, selecting the cream of the crop, demanding that they follow his direction exactly as he wished them too.

This leadership is abundantly clear throughout this performance. You can see how the band, the incredible Caledonia Soul Orchestra, keep their eyes fixed on Van, stopping and turning and blasting out in response to a wide variety of hand and body gestures. As a musician, myself, I can attest that this is an extraordinary thing, it requires deep immersion in the music, deep listening, deep concentration, and, paradoxically, for the music to be good and enjoyable, this has to be done without sounding like any deep concentration is involved at all, so that the music feels natural and flows as if it was effortless, as is absolutely the case here.

Second, the musicians here are remarkable for another reason. This is a HUGE band, with a rhythm section, lead guitar, horns, keyboards, and a 4-piece string section, and yet there is a wonderful spaciousness to the music, the players don’t showboat and step on each others’ toes, they are, indeed, a true orchestra rather than a cacophonous wall of sound.

Third, there’s this sweet thing that happens at around the 3:30 mark, when a little girl appears on the stage, it seems from the smiles of Terry Adams, the cello player, that this might be her daughter, and the little girl stands calmly by Van Morrison’s side, in front of all those people in the audience, just hanging out, the cameras move away, capturing the rest of the band for a full minute and a half, and when it returns to focus on Van, you can see that the little girl is still there by his side, you see him look down at her and smile, smiles being a rare thing for Van Morrison, as he lets out a drag he’s taken from his cigarette, until, at one point, he leans over to say something to the girl, who now has a tambourine in her hand, and the girl starts walking away off stage, with the tambourine, all along with the song continuing, and Van starts to follow the girl, as if he intended to leave the stage in the middle of the tune, only to turn around abruptly and finish it out with an extended improvisational series of fits and starts.

Anyway, ’nuff said. It’s pure awesomeness.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend everyone!

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation … Trailer Review?!

cruiseSo, apparently, reviews, not just of movies, but of movie TRAILERS, is now a thing.

There’s even an entire website dedicated to this new form of journalism.

I feel so old. I mean, I remember when moviegoers ALWAYS referred to trailers as “previews”, and I never accepted the reason why the term “trailer” is even used anymore.

After all, the suffix “pre-” suggests something that comes before something else, which has two meanings in this case: 1. previews come out before the actual movie comes to theaters; 2. in the theaters, previews come before the feature presentation.

“Trailer”, on the other hand, refers to something that trails behind, that comes after something.

The fact that, historically, previews were shown after the feature presentation — which in the case of the popular serial films of the time made a lot of sense, since you wouldn’t want to watch the preview for the sequel before watching the prequel — doesn’t make up for the fact that any reasonable person would agree that the name should have been changed to “preview” once they no longer were shown after the feature.

Even the Motion Picture Association of America uses the term “preview” in something that appears at the beginning of every so-called trailer:

preview

ANYWAY, ironically perhaps, I’m not actually working toward an outright condemnation of movie trailer reviews. On the contrary, I’m working toward recommending the reading of one such review, one of the funniest reviews I’ve ever read.

Here’s a snippet, from The Guardian:

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation trailer review – dangles with Cruise

In a year packed to the gills with returning heroes like Star Wars and Jurassic Park and the Avengers, it’s easy to overlook something like Mission: Impossible 5. And that’s perfectly understandable, because what are the Mission: Impossible films if not incredibly expensive excuses for Tom Cruise to dangle off stuff? And, in all honesty, if you’ve seen Tom Cruise dangle from one thing, you’ve pretty much seen him dangle from everything.

That said, yesterday’s teaser for Mission: Impossible 5 – now titled Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, presumably because Mission: Impossible: Attack: Of: The: Overzealous: Colons was too unwieldy – had all the makings of Tom Cruise’s dangliest adventure yet…

If only they gave out Oscars for dangling, Tom Cruise would cinch it. Incidentally, this is the moment that I decided not to go and see Mission: Impossible 5 until the whole thing is reedited to be one continuous shot of Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane while it flies all the way to, say, Berlin or something. I cannot be alone in wanting this. Someone should start a petition.

There’s plenty more where that came from, so please do check it out and enjoy some hearty chuckles.

In the meantime, here’s the Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation PREVIEW:

Eyecatchers: Seth Globepainter

seth-3It’s been ages since I posted an Eyecatchers installment featuring a street artist (some past examples: BLU, Sam3, JR), but, thanks to Colossal, my eyes were decidedly caught this morning by the work of Seth Globepainter (aka Julien “Seth” Malland).

Seth has traveled extensively, meeting other street artists, observing their work, and cultivating his own style. The pieces seen here are from a stunning series of murals with a theme running through them, depicting children (and in one case a mother of an infant child) either gazing at or plunging their faces into rainbows or rainbow like concentric circles of color.

Seth’s human subjects are rendered so beautifully, and there’s a lovely, loving, gentle sensitivity about them. Their gazes seem to represent how the power of a child’s sense of curiosity, wonder, and imagination enables them to see beyond the mundanity of daily life.

The figures do not seem to be in any immediate danger or distress, which is something that, I think, distinguishes the works from those of other street artists. While it might seem a more fitting approach for urban art to depict children as products of a harsh environment, in soiled, ragged clothes, surrounded by signs of neglect or threat, it could also be considered obvious or redundant, since the urban setting surrounding the murals already provides that context. Or, it may be the case that Seth’s work isn’t intended as a statement about urban decay.

Anyway, you be the judge as you check out the following photos of his work.

seth-1

seth-5

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seth-7

seth-3

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Video Fridays: Rock&Roll Is In A Coma, And Rhett Miller Should Be HUGE!

Rhett_Miller_2013Two weeks ago tonight, while I was in Los Angeles for my mini-vacation, I had the great pleasure to see a music performance that both totally satisfied and baffled at the same time.

Rhett Miller is the frontman and primary songwriter for a band I love a lot, Old 97’s, and he appeared at Largo, a very intimate space, for a show he called Wheels Off: The Rhett Miller Show, described thusly:

Modeled after an old-school variety show, Wheels Off will feature music, comedy, a little bit of discussion, and maybe even a skit here and there.

It.Was.A.Blast!

Rhett started off playing a handful of solo-acoustic songs, a fiddler joined him for a few songs, a comedian did a brief set, Rhett and the fiddler did a few more songs, Rhett and some gal did a humorous skit based off Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, with Rhett as Charlie Brown and the gal as Lucy, Rhett returned by himself for a few songs, the bass player from Old 97’s, Murry Hammond, joined him for a handful of songs, and finally they were both joined by the fiddler and Largo fixture, songwriter and film score composer Jon Brion.

So, like I said, the show was totally satisfying, but the baffling part can be summed up by what my friend said to me when the lights came up for intermission:

How the HELL is this guy not HUGE?!!

It’s a valid question.

On paper, Rhett Miller seems to have it all. He’s a natural frontman, a highly charismatic, likeable entertainer; he’s got killer, youthful good looks; he’s a rock-solid rhythm guitarist; his voice is strong, with good range; he can summon quintessential Rock&Roll snarls, shouts, and screams; his lyrics are loaded with witty wordplay and vivid visuals, with themes running the Rock&Roll gamut, from sweet and romantic to rowdy and raunchy.

Oh, and he’s constantly writing new music and touring! Old 97’s have released 10 full-length LPs since their debut in 1994, and Rhett has four solo albums under his belt.

The only explanation I can come up with for why Rhett and Old 97’s are not HUGELY successful is a sad one that impacts me personally.

Straightforward, guitar-centric, American roots-based Rock&Roll, I’m afraid, is in a coma. I’m not prepared to declare it dead, because there’s no telling whether or not there will be any significant renaissance in the future, but right now Pop and Hip-Hop rule, and right here in Bellingham, Washington the most popular genres in the bars and other music venues are Funk, Classic Rock, and acoustic Americana.

The band in which I play rhythm guitar and sing lead vocals has a hard time getting gigs, because we play straightforward, guitar-centric, American roots-based Rock&Roll covers, and we intentionally do NOT play radio hits. It’s a matter of principles. Many of the bands we cover can be heard on the radio, but I, personally, can’t bear to listen to Classic Rock radio, where the same hits are played over and over and over again. You’d never know that these bands put out albums with 10-12 songs on them!

I hear over and over again that bar patrons like bands to play songs that they know well and can sing along with, but I don’t want to be a human jukebox! Why pay me and my band to play when you could just turn on the radio or play a Pandora station? What happened to going out to see music performed that you may have never heard before?!

Anyway, fortunately, Rhett and Old 97’s have a devoted cult following, I proudly count myself among their numbers, and I’ll wrap things up here singing their praises and presenting two clips for this week’s Video Fridays installment. The first has Rhett performing a solo-acoustic version of a song, Out of Love, from his 2012 album The Dreamer, and the second features Old 97’s playing a song that my band covers, Barrier Reef, from their 1997 album, Too Far To Care.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

What’s In A Name? Julian Brave NoiseCat Is All That!

julian_noisecatHe shares the same name as my one and only son.

And, his middle name, well, it couldn’t be more appropriate.

His name is Julian Brave NoiseCat, he’s a member of the Canim Lake Band of Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation of central British Columbia, Canada, and his personal account, posted at Salon, of his efforts to earn a Rhodes Scholarship is just about the most inspiring and moving thing I’ve read lately.

Short Version

The Rhodes scholarship wasn’t designed or intended for me or my people, and that’s why I wanted it so badly.

Longer Version

I spent months pouring my heart and soul into becoming a Rhodes scholar.

As the grandson of multiple generations of genocide survivors (who endured everything from the Cariboo Gold Rush to the scandal of Native American residential schools), and the only begotten child of a broken interracial marriage between a spunky Irish-Jew and an alcoholic artist who stumbled off the reserve and into a New York bar, I recognize the irony here.

The Rhodes is funded by the estate of Cecil Rhodes, a decidedly terrible man who profited unequivocally from the colonization and exploitation of African peoples and territories. A proud imperialist, Rhodes believed that the burden of both history and progress belonged to the Anglo-Saxon who must strive to triumph over the savagery of the “ape, bushman and pigmy.” Although Rhodes’ explicit endorsement of global white supremacy is noted only in hushed tones and seldom in polite company, the spirit of his vision — to find and enable the most elite talent among the young and educated so that they can lead a righteous crusade forward for humanity — remains. Every year, a short list of scholars from around the world shoulder what was formerly known as the “White Man’s Burden.” Fortunately, these days, it is a bit browner and more feminine than Rhodes originally envisioned.

…Long ago, men like Rhodes — who amassed fortunes from actions that included the theft of the lands where our gods reside, our ancestors are buried and our people still struggle to live a decent life — decided that humans were players in a zero-sum game and that the resources and opportunities would not be ours but theirs. I imagined that when I won the Rhodes and raided his colonial estate, those men would turn in their graves while my ancestors danced in the revelry of vengeful success. I was going to take it all back — for Canim Lake (my home reserve), Oakland (where I grew up) and all of Indian Country. Maybe it was justice. Maybe it was delusion.

I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but if you do so, you may question why I used the term “inspiring” to describe it.

After all, (spoiler alert) while having been selected as one of 15 finalists in his region, only two were offered the scholarship, and Julian was not one of those two. What’s worse, he had to endure a horrendously out of touch, insensitive, and subtly racist inquisition by a member of the selection committee.

So, how can something so heartbreaking be inspiring?

Because Julian decided to pursue the scholarship despite its namesake’s past.

Because, though the Rhodes has been awarded to women and people of color in the past, even an Aboriginal Australian, no member of the Canadian First Nations or U.S. Native American tribes has, and Julian decided he could be the first.

Because Julian’s efforts offer inspiration to indigenous students all over the world.

Because Julian shared something his late grandfather used say — Shake the hand that shakes the world — and he proceeds to describe how he did just that, and he concludes his story with his own undaunted spin on it:

When you shake the hand that shakes the world, look that power in the face and do not tremble.

Brave, indeed.

Video Fridays: The Twilight Zone

twilight-zoneEver have one of those days, when everything seems to go wrong; when, as Hamlet said, the time is out of joint; when things just seem off; when you’re not on your game; when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

I believe it is not at all an exaggeration to posit that most people who grew up on television, where and when I did, think of the following when we’re having a day like that:

(Queue the haunting theme music by Marius Constant…)

You’re traveling through another dimension.

A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

A journey through a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

That’s the sign post up ahead!

Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.

– Rod Serling

This week I conclude my series of nostalgic Video Fridays posts, wherein I’ve reminisced about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

Having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, and Star Trek: The Original Series, it’s time now to enter…The Twilight Zone!

Thanks to the 1:00am airing time, it’s safe to say that, of all of these shows, I saw The Twilight Zone with less consistency, unless you include the many times I fell asleep in the middle of an episode.

And yet, when I did watch I was captivated and very often creeped out, thanks to the late hour and the often mysterious, mind-bending, and even scary stories.

The Twilight Zone resembled two of the other shows in particular ways.

First, like The Honeymooners, it was in black and white, and while not dating back quite as far — the last episode originally aired in June 1964, a few months before I was born — it was a terrific time capsule, offering up a charming glimpse of the clothing, furniture, appliances, and vehicles of the time, as well as many no-longer used colloquialisms.

Second, like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone often featured science fiction stories, including even more dated and, to our modern CGI-trained eyes, cheesy props and special effects, but always focused on human drama and ethical dilemmas rather than on action.

The Twilight Zone, unlike Star Trek, was mostly a half-hour show (season four featured hour-long episodes, but it returned to a half-hour for the fifth and final season), and I’d argue that this time constraint (actually 25 minutes without commercials) speaks to the show’s primary greatness, for each episode was a masterpiece in miniature, with solid story arcs, tight scripts offering a mixture of humorous and dead serious dialogue, incredible casting, deeply committed acting, and gorgeous photography, employing experimental techniques that were quite radical for the time.

In preparation for writing this post, this past week I re-watched numerous episodes, starting from the pilot, continuing in sequence through much of the first season, then skipping around amongst the remaining four seasons, and I was particularly struck by how good the show was right out of the gate.

In fact, the eighth episode of the first season may be the most famous one of all, titled Time Enough To Last, and starring the late great Burgess Meredith as a book worm, so distracted by his obsession with reading that his marriage and job are in jeopardy, until one day, while taking his lunch break in the vault of the bank where he works, a nuclear apocalypse goes down, and, after recovering from the shock and coming to the realization that he may be the last person alive on the planet, he discovers the rubble of the public library, enough books to last a lifetime, and time enough at last to indulge his reading obsession without interruption, only, as he’s about to dig into the first book, his super-thick eyeglasses, without which he can barely see a thing much less read, fall to the ground and smash completely, unusable.

It’s devastating and awesome.

And yet, this is not the episode I’ve chosen to include here. Rather, I’ve selected episode 21 of the first season, because it shares common ground with the episode I featured in last week’s Star Trek post.

Titled Mirror Image (the Star Trek episode was titled Mirror, Mirror), like it’s counterpart, it explores the possibility of a parallel or alternate universe, a copy of the one we exist in, only…different.

But, rather than me rambling on any further, let’s just get to the video fun!

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: I apologize that, due the video having been rendered in a different aspect ratio than the original, parts of the image are cut off throughout, especially noticeable during close-up dialogue.)

Video Fridays: Star Trek

star_trekSpace: the final frontier…

Man, every time I saw that star field and heard the opening tones of Alexander Courage’s theme music, and then William Shatner‘s voiceover…well, pun intended, it transported me.

Continuing with my series of Video Fridays posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth…

…after having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, and M*A*S*H, this week it’s all about Star Trek: The Original Series.

By this time in the evening, midnight, I was really pushing it in terms of my bedtime. As mentioned in my first post in this series, I would have to keep the volume as low as possible, sit ridiculously close to the tiny TV I had in my room, and even throw a blanket over me and the TV trying not to get caught by my parents.

But, boy was the risk worth it. Star Trek was awesome.

When I first started watching, it was post Star Wars, and while Star Trek seemed campy and low-fi in comparison, I was able to see the two as very, very different from each other, and I enjoyed them each in their own way.

What I loved about Star Trek was how it resembled the science fiction I had just started to read. The stories seemed to explore the drama of situations and dig deep into ethical questions. There was this sense that the central purpose of the show had very little to do with entertainment. Rather, it was an effort to fully consider what life might be like in the future, to imagine the possibilities of human beings giving up war and exploring the universe on a mission of peace.

I had no idea at the time that Star Trek would go on to spawn numerous TV series and movies, and I never became a full-blown Trekkie. And though I have seen all of the movies, LOVED Star Trek: The Next Generation as much, if not more, than the original series, I’ll always feel a fondness for the Shatner-Nimoy era, and it’s been great fun, watching episodes over the past few days in preparation for writing this.

Now, onto this week’s video, one of the most famous episodes from those mere three seasons, titled Mirror, Mirror, notable for its parallel universe plot, and for alternate-universe-Mr. Spock’s rad goatee.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!