Sunday, January 30, 2005

Once more.

I saw Sideways again last night and unless Million Dollar Baby completely blows me away, there's no doubt THIS is the GREAT movie of the year and frankly one of the best American movies of the last five years. People don't realize just how difficult comedy is to do well. It's a shame that the Academy is populated by people who always seem to fall for the most maudlin of sentiment but can't find it in their disease-of-the-month-lovin' souls to get a sophisticated joke when they hear or seen one. I mean there's a reason Cary Grant is the greatest movie star of all time, and it has to do with what Stanley Cavell calls those classic "Hollywood comedies of remarriage": Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday, and The Awful Truth. If he'd quit making movies in 1940 and never met Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, Debora Kerr, Grace Kelly, or Audrey Hepburn, he'd still be a cinematic God: for his pratfalls, his one takes, and his delivery of zingers like "She has a horror of men who wear their hats in the house" or "To hardly know him is to know him well."

The thing about Sideways is it's well nigh pitch perfect: one minute you're laughing your ass off and the next something deadly serious has transpired, yet you don't feel manipulated by the film. The four main characters are so finely drawn and fully developed that the movie has an internal logic all its own. For another take on the brilliance of this movie from across the pond, see Peter Bradshaw's review in the Guardian UK.

Where is my mind?

I missed the Pixies hour-long performance on Austin City Limits last night. Since when did that show suddenly get indie cred? I mean Pixies, Modest Mouse, and GBV in a two-week span, as opposed to another boring acoustic Roots tradition singer/songwriter not quite as good as Lucinda Williams or John Hiatt.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A quick one.

Just saw Green Day play all of "Jesus of Suburbia" live on Last Call with Carson Daly. A performance every bit as epochal as The Who on The Rock and Roll Circus and without the benefit of any editing special effects! Tre Cool has become the most astonishing rock drummer in the Keith Moon vein—minus the set smashing. Disappointing that we only got 30 seconds of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" as the show left air and that the "How Soon is Now" riff is a sequencer effect that no one is actually playing! Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Monday, January 24, 2005

God bows to math.

Numb3rs looks like it could be a keeper.

A stellar cast with 5 longtime favorites:

Rob Morrow (Joel Fleischman on Northern Exposure),

David Krumholtz (second banana to Joseph Gordon Leavitt and a dashing Will Shakespeare in 10 Things I Hate About You),

Sabrina Lloyd (Sliders, Frankie from the late lamented Ed, and apparently she was on Sports Night, but I don't remember her from Aaron Sorkin's first TV effort),

Peter MacNicol (John "the Biscuit" Cage on Ally MacBeal),

and Judd Hirsch (Alex Reiger on Taxi)

plus the Scott Brothers (Blade Runner Ridley and Top Gun Tony) as Executive Producers.

A firm focus on math as well as on the personalities of characters. And one of the better theme songs borrowed for a show: an instrumental version of The Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime".

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Midnight rambler.

Yup. it's one of those general catching up blog entries; Or, What I did on my Weekend.

Friday: I went and got my tires rotated at R&M since it had been 5,000 miles since their last shift. One long walk; lots of errands. Discovered that Ray Bans have discontinued their black plastic frames. what would Elvis Costello say (think the famous My Aim is True publicity shot)? Finished cleaning house for Saturday night's pokerfest. Also late email started an up-and-down weekend, as I was not selected for the Seattle EMP conference: I'll withhold judgement about what really happened until I see the full conference schedule as unveiled. Looking back at the nine selectors, I did notice one or two who have publicly dissed as insignificant my chosen artist.

here's the letter (nice and well done for its genre):

Dear George,

[Alas, it must be told. Nine people with votes.]

We're sorry to have to tell you that we won't be able to accommodate your
proposal for the 2005 Pop Conference. This year's submissions hit an
all-time high and we have had to say no to some very intriguing work just to
keep some semblance of structure to the event.

Please also bear in mind that every year people who have been with us
previously get turned down and people who were turned down previously get
accepted. Different program committees (this one had nine people) have
different mindsets and issues of balance are always challenging for this
gathering in particular, given its hybrid academic/non-academic nature. We'd
ask you to not be discouraged and to try again next year if the theme
interests you.

If you are still planning to come to Seattle in April, let us know at once:
our next task is to fill in moderator slots and we would be happy to
consider putting you in one.

Either way, thank you very much for submitting your proposal. Even the work
that isn't accepted in a given year teaches the committee members a
tremendous amount about this crazy quilt of a field.?

Eric Weisbard and Ann Powers

I think I'll keep my 600 bucks for plane fare and just try again the next time the topic seems to suit me.

On a more positive note, have been getting in touch with old friends via e-mail. My blog is now linked to the URY alumni page and had multiple British visitors. Touched base with old friends/former student the Barchases (she's now a Asst. prof in English at UT Austin; he's a McKinsey consultant working with a client in B'ham). With any luck we'll get together in Starkvegas laster this week. Also back in touch with JGN (he was a first year grad student when I was a senior at fair Haravrd and we sat next to each other in Anglo-Saxon class--yes I was a major league nerd (hey no jokes about the past tense, o.k.). anyway he's another once-upon-a-time tenure track Shakespeare guy and big indie rock fan (wrote a lot about the local Columbus scene during his time there--has a massive collection of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments material on his hard drive). Here's a link to his pictures of Cambridge after last night's blizzard.

Saturday: A long day loungin' around house wiht slightly upset stomach, setting up card game (especially counting out right amount of chips from my CEO's new World Championship of Poker collection augmented by my age old plastic chips). We dined on terrine of roasted red pepper and asiago, wensleydale with cranberries, stilton with lemon, Cajun smoked sausage and polish Keilbasa with assorted mustards (the hits were Roasted Garlic, Maragrita, and Sun Dried Roasted tomato--all Stonewall Kitchen), various single malts, horse tranq martinis, and scoops and salsa plus Grace's 7 layer Mexican dip. Entertainment for the evening was: The Arcade Fire, Funeral, Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins disc one, Stax: We'll Play the Blues for You, The Libertines, Superchunk, Tossing Seeds singles collection, The Talking Heads, The Name of this Band is . . . . After last month's big "money" debacle, we all ended pretty even; I was down big early, went back up, had one bad hand near the end and "lost" $1.20. I think the big wnner was up a total of $5. Now that's a friendly neighborhood low stakes poker game. Wind was wild enough that it blew one table on its side and both umbrelals out of their sockets on back patio. I have closed them up for the winter now.

I finished cleaning up on the stroke of one. Just in time to catch a new Austin City Limits with 30 minutes performances by modest Mouse and Guided by Vocies. Maybe it was just me bu the lighting seemed all wrong for both shows, like not enough. MM were as I usually perceive them, good at what they do but that's soemthing that has never really grabbed my attention. GBV veered between self-parody and majesty, at one point Bob was lsurring his words so bad you thought you might actually see him pass out and Doug Guillard had to step in briefly on one song and sing a verse. He rallied for closing number "Gald Girls" and the audience seemed to have loved it. The post-show interview bit was far too short but then I'd have given GBV the whole hour. It was interetsing to hear Bob wax nostalgic about what if anything GBV's achievement and place in the pantheon was.

Sunday: Won't get much above freezing today, so I'm gonna stay inside and work on writing projects, organize the 2004 tax files, and see if my on-line students have any questions (traditionally Sunday is seen as an off-day but since I just returned their first "essays" Friday, I gave them until 6 pm today to ask any specific questions about their papers or my comments. Then it's plop in front of the firepace and watch some football.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Personal jesus.

So Rolling Stone has reneged on a deal to publish an ad from Zondervan for Today's New International Version of the Bible for "spiritually intrigued 18- to 34-year olds." One big question: if Zondervan is big enough to be running a million dollar ad campaign, then why don't they know that no one in their target demographic reads or cares about Rolling Stone? Huh? Riddle me that, Riddler? I mean Jaysus H., you want to hire me Zondervan and learn something about where you might actually reach today's youth! I'll work cheap -- high 5 figures.

At least they hit closer to the mark with The Onion and Modern Bride, both of which ran similar ads.

Monday, January 17, 2005

My ever changing moods (***spoilers***).

I went to see In Good Company as a Martin Luther King Day matinee treat.

A few random thoughts.

1) I just feel so bad for Meg Ryan, who looked like the freaky Botoxed and nip tucked from hell younger sister of Barbara Hershey on that NBC Tsunami benefit, while her ex seems to be growing into roles that Richard Gere turns down. The boyish charm has been leavened with some gray and a slight paunch and voila--a movie star who can really act emerges.

2) Topher Grace's role was an interesting twist on his That '70s Show persona of Eric Forman. I'm also wondering if there were a script rewrite to get surrogate dad allusion for Dennis Quaid as "Dan Foreman." The whole Duryea name thing puts me in mind of the famous film noir actor Dan Duryea first seen in The Little Foxes and the brothers (Charles and Frank) who made America's first gas-powered automobile.

3) Was this the first globalizing corporate takeover "feel good" romantic comedy? Credit to the screenwriter/director Paul Weitz (is it really the American Pie guy?, yes it is).

4) I haven't worked this out fully but the film seemed somehow an inversion of The Graduate. ***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Basically the roles of the adults and kids in the two films are reversed and, of course, we're not offered the standard cliched Hollywood ending where the boy gets the girl, but that was a pleasant relief from having a movie with an unrealistically happy ending. There's more to work out here for a later date.

Re: the older guy/younger girl relationship, the post-breakup lines about the best conversations I've ever had hit close to home. ***END SPOILERS***

Some potentially exciting news on the freelance journalism side of things, but I need to wait for all "i"s to be dotted and "t"s crossed before elaborating.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

My prerogative.

Hey, Yankees fans: The BoSox are still WORLD CHAMPS!!!

NYAAAHHHH (translation a Bronx strawberry to stir the stick).

Monday, January 10, 2005

Double fantasy.

In honor of the 25th anniversary reissue of The Clash's London Calling, I'm going to list my favorite double albums. The criteria: simple, they must have been released as two slabs of vinyl regardless of size or speed. You might be surprised by what goes missing below as well as the overall rankings.

The Five Essentials
1) The Clash, London Calling
As close to a perfect record as might exist out there. If this is what punk is, I'm down with it. Now a 2 CD, 1 DVD set.

2) New Order, Substance
For once Quincy Jones and Qwest got it right. New Order was a singles band and specifically a 12" singles band. A definitive mid-career anthology.

3) Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear
Cynically dismissed on its original release, this divorce settlement album proves that while Gaye could make a non-commercial record on purpose, he couldn't make a bad one for the same reason. Right up there with his two career peaks, What's Going On and Let's Get it On. The sound of some of Gaye's screams here is heart-rending.

4) Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
A tad on the short side, but the downtown nosiemeisters come of age on this one. Closest they came again was Washing Machine.

5) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Forget O, Brother Where Art Thou?, this 1972 release was the original backwards glance at our country/mountain roots.

Everything Else Alphabetically

The Beatles, 1962-66 (The Red Album)
While I like the Blue album (1967-70) too, I was old enough by 1967 to ask for the actual Beatles albums and I own them all from there on out. But this is how I learned about the British Invasion material.

The Beatles, Rock and Roll
As above except covering the early covers forward to "Revolution."

Bob Dylan & The Band, The Basement Tapes
I have a fraught relationship with Bob Dylan. However, Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic convinvced me to revisit him, and I can say for sure that this lp is the biz!

Hüsker Dü, Warehouse: Songs and Stories
A song cycle that is the sound of a band cracking up under the pressure. A fitting final testament to the greatest American band between The Ramones and Pavement.

Hüsker Dü, Zen Arcade
Indie dinomite. Their first truly great record.

Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Before he became a camp diva and composer of mediocre Disney scores, John was a talented musician/singer-songwriter/ pianist who managed to make the genre-spanning record the Beatles unsuccessfully tried to make in The White Album. Finally surpassed as a mix of songwriting styles and sounds by London Calling.

Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus
I've never bought the band in decline argument about this double slab of live down and dirty chicken shack boogie.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, One More For/From the Road
You know Ronnie Van Zandt WAS a Golden God! The liner notes on this double set made Cameron Crowe's career. Even if "Freebird" is the second most overplayed long song of all time, this record documents America's best live band in the mid 1970s (sorry Aerosmith). Three guitar attacks rule!

The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
A testament to one of America's first great post-hardcore indie bands cut down before their prime. D. Boon, we miss you so.

Prince, Sign 'o' The Times
Arguably the last time the little purple one really mattered. And America just didn't get this masterpiece.In fairness neither did I at first back in 1986.

The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
A very good record marred by some loose ends and the odd weak track. At its best as epochal as rock and roll has ever been.

Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything?
I could do without a bit of the studio tomfoolery. But this is as inventive as American Power Pop got in the 1970s. Thousands of geeks went out and built their own jerry-rigged home studios after hearing this masterpiece.

Talking Heads, The Name of the Band is
As the recent and long overdue reissue and expansion shows, THIS not Stop Making Sense is the definitive live album for one of the 1980s greatest bands.

Two new non-vinyl entrants

Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera
Conceptually brilliant, but do I really need to listen to the nine minute spoken word track on Disc 1 every time? I think not. They've gone from strength to strength with Decoration Day and The Dirty South.

Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Reinventing rap/hip hop much as Public Enemy once did. One wonders "what's next" in Stankonia?

The revolution will not be televised.

It will come to you via your radio. BBC Radio One has made a final and quite reasonable decision about the John Peel Show slot:
John Peel's week night show will be succeeded by OneMusic, three shows hosted by three DJs, dedicated to championing a diverse, unpredictable and non-commercial mix of new music.

It is widely accepted that John Peel can never be replaced. The challenge for the new show therefore is to keep his legacy alive. OneMusic will do this through its support for new artists both signed and unsigned with an emphasis on UK talent.

I'm particulalry pleased that Rob Da Bank, who did such a creditable job filling in the last month, is part of this solution. For the entire press release click here.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The kids are alright.

Just back from Tuscaloosa and day one of the Strode Symposium: Les Enfants Terribles, a meeting of the supposedly six best Shakespearean drama scholars under 40. At least I knew two of them and one of those is a good good friend, Bryan Reynolds of UC Irvine and "transversal poetics" fame.We first hung out at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead! You see the annual Shakespeare Association Meeting was always booked by this rich female professor from Vanderbilt, Ann Jennalie Cook, and she went for the best hotel or at least an old grand dame in each town (We did the Drake in Chicago par example). Anyway Bryan and I sat at the same table for the big boring lunch and hung out at the bar for much of the remainder of he conference. My favorite memory of our yearly SAA meetings was the ride from Albuquerque to Sante Fe and the rooftop lunch at Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe, featuring Baja pescado soft corn tacos.

Last fall I got to visit with Bryan, his wife (a former student! but she came back to school at like 30 after a lengthy modeling career), and newborn baby on his home turf. He was the host for the annual group on Early Modern Cultural Studies which met at the Newport Beach Marriott on the Pacific bluffs right across the street from Fashion Island! That's for all you OC fans out there. We even survived the massive wildfires and managed to return back to Starkvegas on schedule.

He's a cool cat, and I was extremely pleased he was honored by Gary Taylor and The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies for his accomplishments. We had a good time quaffing an ale at Egan's Bar across University Blvd from the egregious Houndstooth sports bar. Lunch at Bento's which used to be the Thai place on University Boulevard above Subway.

Now as to the conference:

Carla Mazzio (University of Chicago)
"'The History of Air': Shakespeare and the Evaporating Self"

Bryan Reynolds (University of California, Irvine)
"Transversal Theater: Subjunctivity and Intelligence to Hamlet Beyond Baboons".

11:30 lunch (any interested faculty invited)

Starting a Career: six really successful young academics under 40 talk and answer questions about research, teaching, mentors, conferences, job searches, networking, technology, panic, grants, etc.

Tiffany Stern (Brookes University, Oxford, England)
"Watching as Reading -- the Audience and Text in the Early Modern Playhouse"

It was fun to be around a group of really smart people with an intense interest in an area I know a little something about. I could have extended conversations on the following kinds of topics without anybody looking at me like I'm a wierdo:

air as constitutive medium for communication
humoral psychology and consciousness
aqueous versus non-aqueous "vapors"
whether or not "fatwood" was a current usage in renaissance English
Baboons and "Machiavellian intelligence"
4 plus kinds of "plot" in renaissance stage materialism but primarily the kind of plot or argument attached to a play as brief precis
The failure of the star system in improving higher education as evidenced by the utter inanity of Helen Vendler's Sonnets books (she spent nine years on a vanity project which doesn't forward scholarship one iota but somehow she still managed to win nine major fellowships to a tune of probably $3/4 million, money which would have been better spent on a wide array of other projects which were actually expanding our knowledge base. The Euroskeptic contingent also bitched about the fact she was arrogant enough to read the sonnets herself on the accompanying CD-rom. I don't buy the argument that they must be read by a man even if historically it's probably accurate (re: the circulation of MS culture between a coeterie of male aristocrats, sprezaturra, and all that). Still, her book on Keats' Odes remains essential reading for romanticists everywhere.

I won't be able to attend tomorrow's session as I prepare for another 119 Edgewood blowout, but here's the schedule:

Lukas Erne (University of Neuchatel, Switzerland)
"Biography and Criticism: The Modern Reception of the Early Modern Author"

Karen Britland (Keele University, England)
"'Music to all eyes'": the spectacle of Harmony in Tempe Restored"

Lunch for six speakers with Strode graduate students

Ewan Fernie (Royal Holloway University of London, England)
"Shakespeare and Agency"

A 45-minute panel on "The Future of Renaissance Drama Studies" featuring all six speakers

Fernie is an especially interesting and challenging oppositional thinker in the best British tradition. His first book was about Shame in Shakespeare.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sooner or later.

USC's gonna kick your ass. Why did USC win? 1) They had a better team. 2) They dominated both lines of scrimmage. 3) They wanted it more. I mean, c'mon, Leinart was furious about that meaningless fourth quarter safety, slamming his helmet in disgust when they lost their 40 point lead. If he stays in school, you're looking at a probable 3-peat champion. In review, I was wrong about the Rose, at least in terms of the exciting nature of the game,though I'm still not sold on Texas as anythign but a team with a breakout sophomore running quarterback. The Sugar went about as expected, although I really thought going in VA Tech would find a way. Auburn's defense was everything it's looked to be all year long--hats off to them. Critics of BCS who want that one extra game. Yes, but who are you gonna take: Auburn or Utah? It's so simple; go to an 8 or 16 team playoff just like every other NCAA division does without managing to terminally damage the academic "careers" of their "student-athletes."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Barnyard ballbuster.

Wade Boggs-first ballot Hall of Famer with 19th highest percentage ever. Chicken anyone? The only way the Red Sox year could've gotten better was if the stoic Jim Rice had also been elected or if, heaven forbid, Randy Johnson develops bone spurs and spends the 2005 season on injured reserve.

Give me back the key to my heart.

Well it's official: BBC Radio 1 has unceremoniously killed any on-going version of the John Peel show despite the very creditable job Rob Da Bank did the last month. Sigh, I guess nothing lasts forever. In its place you have "One World", "dedicated to the best underground music around the world," which I guess is a fitting tribute to Peel. Just no more shambolic noisy guitars.

'The Peel site announces that a final decision about what will air from 11 pm -1am on BBC 1 is not final yet.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New day rising.

Surely 2005 will be better all around than 2004; it just CAN"T be worse!

On a related note, sure hope Chris Rix ends his college career on a up note. Hey Gators, now you know how it feels . You pile up yardage only to have a kick block returned for a TD and a punt return for a TD against you. So you look up at half with overwhelming stats but it's 17-3 the other way. I guess the visored one knew what he was doing by ducking the 'Canes for all those years.

Let's hear it for the refs who gifted Minnesota with a bowl win they didn't really deserve; remember I am in no way, shape, or form an Alabama fan, but how can you not see that obvious fumble?. Man was that Liberty Bowl a great shootout or what! Louisville was this close to being undefeated (losing by the slimmest of margins to Miami in the Orange Bowl). If they fire Petrino in a fit of pique over his courting better jobs, they are idiotic.

Big game picks:

The Rose: who cares?

The Sugar: Va Tech in a slight upset

The Orange: USC just seems to have another gear whenever they need it. But I do feel bad about betting against a Bob Stoops-coached team. And Adrian Petersen is the thrid best college freshman running back I've ever seen after Herschel Walker (who was robbed of the Heisman by George Rogers) and Marcus Dupree (the man had 240+ yards in the first half of his bowl game before a hammie virtually ended his career--yeah I know he soldiered on in Hattiesburg, New Orleans, and Portland, but c/mon once he left Norman he was really done).

Bet you didn't realize you'd entered the Beano Cook website by mistake. And isn't it a shame that Notre Dame got beat in a minor bowl. AGAIN.