Sunday, October 30, 2005

Fact-checker wanted

I'm a big fan of The Underground Garage, Little Steven's weekly rock show. I tape it every Sunday night so I have something to listen to in the car the following week, since too much of what passes for radio around here will suck the intelligence right out of you. It's always a great show, excepting a few new bands he plays alongside classic Stones, Damned and Sonics tunes.

I'm drawn to the music first, but his between-set musings are entertaining as well. He frequently has a good anecdote about a particular song's recording session or history, stuff I'm a sucker for. (So much so that I rented Sympathy for the Devil last weekend and had to put up with Jean-Luc Godard's nonsense when all I really wanted to see was how much—or, it sadly turns out, how little—Brian Jones contributed to the track.)

Few things irk me more than a DJ sounding all high and mighty and tossing off a bunch of "facts" in a look-how-much-I-know manner, and then it turns out he's plain wrong. Like this stiff John Laurenti who hosts a weekly Beatles show on the local classic-rock station—that was another one I used to tape every week, but he and his idiocy drove me away—he's one of these superfans who thinks the Beatles did everything first, totally discounting the other geniuses of the day (the Kinks, the Who, Hendrix, etc.). So one time a few months ago he mouths off about the Stones not recording a long song until the Beatles cut "Hey Jude." Just sloppy. I was annoyed enough to email him, pointing out "Going Home," "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)," "Jig-Saw Puzzle" and others, and telling him (in so many words) that if you're going to be a loudmouth, at least be an accurate loudmouth. So that was pretty much the end of the show for me.

Which brings me to my man Little Steven. During last week's show he played a terribly inferior version of "(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me" by Apostolic Intervention (it was written by the Small Faces and performed perfectly for their third album). A few songs later he played Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," one of my all-time favorites. So during the break he's telling us what we just heard, and it pains me to say he made two inexcusable errors—errors that frequently trip people up, but could be avoided with some Google research and common sense.

The first was in explaining that "Steve Marriott of the Faces" gave the song to Apostolic Intervention. For the last time, Marriott was in the Small Faces and was the only member of the Small Faces not to move on to the Faces in 1969. (True that the new group continued—against the band's wishes—to be called the Small Faces for their first album in the US, but in their home country and everywhere else in the world it was the Faces.) This is basic stuff if you're into sixties music.

I'm more flexible regarding his second mistake, since Donovan was enough of a flake to put it out there himself: "Hurdy Gurdy Man" does not feature three-quarters of a future Led Zeppelin (theoretically, all but Robert Plant), despite his Greatest Hits liner notes saying otherwise. He even admits as much in the notes to the later-released Best of Donovan. Think about it: it's a confirmed fact that Allan Holdsworth played guitar (because Hendrix and Page, Donovan's first and second choices, were unavailable) and Clem Clatini played drums on the song; does it really sound like there is more than one drum track on this song, or that there are two guitars beside Donovan's own? John Bonham was a relative unknown at the time anyway, and Page and John Paul Jones likely didn't even meet him until Plant brought him into the Yardbirds/Zeppelin fold later in '68 ("Hurdy Gurdy Man" was recorded in April of that year, Led Zeppelin in October).

So that leaves Jones, who indeed did perform (and nicely) on the track. But I guess "Featuring one-quarter of Led Zeppelin!" isn't quite as strong a selling point. By the way, I love the thought of Donovan sitting down to write his notes and thinking "Hey, what's a good story about 'Hurdy Gurdy Man'? I was so out of it, baby." Then he just starts making shit up, "I was the first singer of Led Zeppelin, why not?" Seriously, these are the best liner notes I've ever read. Regarding "Barabajagal," which he did record with the Jeff Beck Group, he writes "When the record escapes, no one knows who the hell it is… only one thing happened, fusion of a rare and curious kind. Angels and hipsters collide in love." Woot!

Little Steven, you are better than this. I can't blame Donovan too much because it's still painful to watch the "To Sing for You"/"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" sequence in Dont Look Back—let the man live his dreams, already. But realize that you might want to double-check his "facts."

Monday, October 24, 2005

I officially hate the Clash

Last week A. and I met her friend and her friend's new boyfriend for dinner. It was predetermined that he and I would get along well and I'm glad to say we did. But the reason given is that we both are really into music. So there it is: somewhere in the air, a bit of High Fidelity-style static has appeared. Even if it never rears its head, we're both now thinking "I bet I have better taste in music than this guy."

And I hate that this even crosses my mind. It's really a self-imposed stigma, along the lines of answering "Anything and everything" whenever someone asks what kind of music you listen to. (I always think people who answer with this are liars or assholes or both.) So when he inevitably asked what I like I said I didn't know, and asked A."What do I like?" Really to avoid the issue. In a real or imagined competitive atmosphere, I want nothing to do with that question.

I'm sure a lot of this has to do with my complete lack of awareness regarding good new bands—I have no idea what's going on anymore. WZBC (Boston College) and, to a lesser extent, WMBR (Massy Tech) (not its actual name, or nickname even) used to be major forces in my world, keeping me entertained during my morning and evening commutes and all day in between. No more. Taking the long view, though, I think I've reached the age where it's OK to fall out of touch. I'm not out all night at the Central Square clubs like I used to be; it now annoys me to shop at Newbury Comics because useless crap seems to be their main source of revenue; and I'd rather hear a ten-year-old Stereolab song on the radio than the goddamn Killers.

Anyway, the conversation somehow turned to sixties music, which I'm much more open to discussing because it's fun stuff and there's really no right or wrong (except for the Four Seasons, who fucking suck). We talked about the Stones' Beggars Banquet and Between the Buttons (an underrated classic, and home to a song from The Royal Tenenbaums he was seeking out) and the Small Faces vs. the Faces (one is timeless and the other… uh, well "Stay With Me" is good). Overall a fine, safe conversation.

And then the restaurant played a Clash song. I understand the Clash are a popular band—so are the Eagles—but I groaned because I've never liked them. Not ever. Boyfriend asked "You don't like the Clash?" "Nope." "What's wrong with you?"

And it begins.

When I was a freshman in college I nearly came to blows with someone over the validity of the Doors (I was a fan—I later learned he was as well and just enjoyed playing the contrarian). I'm glad to say I've matured some since then. For instance, after a handful of arguments about music over the years, I've come to the realization that I don't care enough to change anyone's mind, and I'm unwilling to listen to someone trying to change mine. So "Nope" was the right answer there, as opposed to what I might have said (should have said?) five or six years ago: "Oh, you mean that pasty band of reggae/disco posers who wrote adult contemporary hits like 'Train in Vain' and 'Rock the Casbah' and called it punk? The one whose fans also tend to be posers? They fucking suck." Our food arrived instead, and an innocuous response to his challenge ("I just don't like them") shifted us to a different topic. (In truth I think he was half-joking. Half.)

Afterward, though my dislike of the band never wavered, I thought I should double-check because I hadn't heard a Clash album since college. (You see, until recently I had a similar aversion to the Ramones because I thought they were just aping the Beach Boys; turns out that was the point, and since I finally get it I can enjoy them now.) So I… acquired… The Clash, Give 'Em Enough Rope, London Calling (truly awful) and some early singles over the weekend to give the band a blank-slate listen, no skipping allowed.

Guess what? No born-again moment this time. Other than "1977" I didn't hear one song I liked. So what? It's just another band about which I won't elaborate beyond "Nope" when asked if I like them. It's just another band that won't prompt my badgering people with "What's wrong with you?" if they're a favorite (though, admittedly, I'll think it… I've not evolved beyond that). And it's just another band I won't hear without groaning. Because I hate the Clash. And now it's official.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Scruples vs. Netflix

A. and I subscribe to Netflix, and we've been pretty good about moving through the queue lately (only 140+ to go!). I'm the type who (unrealistically) wants to just plow through the whole thing—in truth, I won't be satisfied until there is nothing left. And there is always something to add.

We keep things fair—most of them we both want to see, but there are some her-movies (Emma, Vanity Fair, etc.) and some his-movies (The Mack, Night Shift, etc.) in there too. She'll be away this weekend, so to make sure I stay entertained (just in case my Six Flags plans get washed out… again) I've front-loaded it with his-movies: a bunch of short ones I can knock out in under ninety minutes and send right back for more trash. This is my model of efficiency—quantity over quality, and the more I can check off the better. (Much like my iPod playlist of songs I haven't heard yet that are under two minutes—if I have to put up with a Guided by Voices or Bad Brains song every five minutes then so be it.)

None of this matters, and I'm sorry about that. The real reason I'm writing is because A. had a crisis of conscience the other night regarding the Netflix five-star rating system. Last week we watched The Pianist and In Good Company. Neither of us was overly impressed with The Pianist until the last half hour or so, with the introduction of Thomas Kretschmann's character (I won't spoil it). We agreed to rate it a three, but up until then we were both thinking two stars.

A couple of days later it was In Good Company, a lot of which we found completely implausible but nonetheless entertaining (Dennis Quaid probably saved it, even without any Right Stuff masturbation discussions). I said it was a three, but she hesitated: she felt bad because that's what we'd rated The Pianist. After all, these two movies are pretty far apart on the heaviness meter. I see her point, but it comes down to how much we liked or disliked a particular movie, not how much we revered or respected the subject matter. Are we supposed to feel guilty about rating a holocaust film the same as a silly family film? If so, why? Is mediocrity not allowed when dealing with a sensitive topic? And what happens after I go rate Back to School five stars in a minute? These are challenging times.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I, Juror

Last Thursday I served me some jury duty—I guess that's what I get for voting. Unlike the other People's Republic experiences I complain about here, this one was honestly pleasant. (To think, I've got more good Cambridge news to look forward to. But I won't smile about that until the check is in my hand. Literally.)

I was expecting a DMV-style environment at the Middlesex County Courthouse, filled with hostile, miserable bureaucrats. However, other than the truly depressing courthouse itself (a twenty-storey eyesore—inside and out—which ironically provides one of the best views of Boston), everyone I encountered could not have been nicer. The bailiffs who signed us in and hosted our orientation; the court police officers who escorted us around during the day; the judge who explained our role and how important it was… these were people who genuinely appreciated our time there, and seemed happy in their work. They could have soullessly gone through the motions they no doubt repeat every day, but they did their best to keep the mood light ("If you have one of those letters from work saying you're too valuable to be away from the office for a significant amount of time, hang onto it so you can show it to your boss next time you ask for a raise") and remind us that we shouldn't count the day as a wasted one, even if we weren't chosen. (And I don't care if they use that same joke every day to each new crowd, because it's more than they need to do.)

I actually got to sit on a jury, which was quite a bit of fun. My panel and another (about thirty people total) were ushered into a courtroom as the jury pool for a case of "Wanton destruction of personal property valuing more than $250." Judge Marcia Thompson-Jackson, before asking any of the basic screening questions, told us the trial would be over by the end of the day. That's all I needed to hear: I wanted in.

(By the way, I'm prepared to elect Judge Jackson governor of Massachusetts based solely on the patience, reasoning and self-assuredness she exuded in those three-plus hours—and we're going to need one, with Mitt eyeing a White House run).

Luckily, based on my juror number, I was one of the first invited into the jury box. I did my best to look focused yet unbiased and it must have worked because of the eight of us who were originally called up, half were rejected by the prosecutor or defender. A bit more turnover and we were left with three guys (including me) and five women when it was all said and done. (Eventually, two of the women were selected at random to serve as alternates and kept apart from us outside of the courtroom.)

The trial itself was fascinating; that it was quick and easy may have contributed here. Essentially, a woman (twenty-five or so, looked like a strung-out Boogie Nights Julianne Moore) had pressed charges against her ex-boyfriend (a few years older, dead ringer for Manny Ramirez) for slashing her tires while she was working at a nail salon. He denied it (his alibi was that he was at his friend Laura's house at the time, but when asked what Laura's last name was he said he didn't know—well done). Aside from the useless testimony of the cop who showed up a half hour afterward, it was he said/she said.

In the deliberation room, it took the six of us about five minutes to realize we were all in complete agreement: he probably did it, but there wasn't enough evidence to eliminate doubt. Too many unanswered questions (it was a little frustrating to not be able to ask any), no witnesses, little to no context of the actual crime, apparent laziness and/or lack of preparation on the prosecution's part. Not guilty.

After a free lunch courtesy of the commonwealth (still separated from the two alternates), we returned to the courtroom and delivered the verdict. Before the foreman even pronounced the Y in "not guilty" Amber Waves and her family were out of there. Manny wore a nice understated grin and his somewhat sleazy (though effective) lawyer predictably slapped him on the back. We were led out and told our obligation was complete, so we were free to go. I was home by 2:30.

Incidentally, as we all rode down the elevator together one of the alternates (neither of whom knew our verdict until it was read aloud) made some flip remark, and when asked if she would have voted another way she said yeah. Her heart was in the right place but her brain was in the toilet: any one of us could have prosecuted the case better, but that was someone else's job. We did the right thing.

A few other notes on the day:

It cost Amber $1,000 for four new tires. One thousand dollars? On her no-doubt-hourly wage? She drove a 2004 Acura something-or-other, and I'd like to know what kind of tires cost $250 a piece. Are they made of opium? What exactly are you paying for here? I want nothing to do with a car that requires those tires.

Amber and Manny had broken up two years earlier after dating for about six months. And I use the term "dating" loosely, because when both were asked what was the nature of their relationship they individually answered "We used to go together." As in, "Hey, do you want to have dinner with me?" "Nah, let's just go somewhere. Together." Amazing.

The closest we came to the Hollywood gasp-inducing moment occurred during Sleepy the prosecutor's cross-examination of Manny. After a series of mundane questions where she passed up opportunity after opportunity to really grill him (like with not knowing his friend's last name), out of nowhere she said "What's that on your left arm?" The defense attorney objected immediately, and the judge called them over for a conference. Turns out he's got a tattoo of the girl's name… a tattoo he got after they'd split, which would demonstrate how upset he was over the break-up. The judge didn't allow the question, and that was the end of that. (How do I know all this? Let's just say the room's acoustics are not ideal for private conversation.)

Without exaggeration, the otherwise-nice foreman (also picked at random) sang this chorus at least twenty times over the course of two hours: "In my gut I think he did it, but they just didn't make the case." He's repeating this to five people who wholeheartedly agree with him and have already signed off on the verdict. It's like in Twelve Angry Men when Henry Fonda is trying to convince the others to see his side, only if they each responded "Can it, asshole, I don't think he did it either!" So I guess it's more like Five Angry Men and Women and the Blowhard Who Keeps Pushing Their Buttons.

Last thing: Manny's lawyer was so confident, he jokingly complained during closing arguments that his client was not as physically attractive as the plaintiff. Is there anything more wonderful he could have done there? Highlight of the day.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

The “Judas!” guy

I taped No Direction Home the other night but have yet to watch it. So I'm wondering, does Scorsese track down the dude who yelled "Judas!" during the Manchester show in '66? This guy is immortalized. For all I know, the entire documentary is a conversation with him…

Scorsese: "Wow, almost forty years since the infamous 'Judas!' performance! What are your thoughts? How should the world remember you?"

Judas Guy: "I went to the doctor the next morning for a regular physical, and he told me I had aged fifty years in the previous twenty-four hours. That sums up my legacy, alright… standing there with a man's finger up my ass as the world passes by."

MS: "I understand. I mean, it really makes you look foolish in hindsight. But why did you feel so betrayed? Isn't it a performer's right to do what he wants instead of catering to an audience? Besides, he'd been playing electric sets for almost a year at that point—it wasn't shocking like it might have been at Newport. All you had to do was leave after 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and you would have been all set."

JG: "Part of me hoped Bob's artistic and adventurous expression would whither against a collective fear. In the larger scheme we were trying to affect change in society, but by our rules—once someone challenged us with a different set of rules, or, rather, with no rules at all, it wasn't as satisfying. Especially Bob, who would've been nowhere without us. He wanted to go in strange new directions, directions we couldn't control. That integrity really freaked us out."

MS: [Considers this.] "I see." [Pauses.] "Sounds like a mob of short-sighted goons, if you ask me."

JG: [Silence.]

MS: [Notices a stack of records.] "Hey, you still have
Bringing It All Back Home! Mind if I play 'Bob Dylan's 115th Dream'? That shit is funny."

JG: [Silence.] [Eats own poop.]

MS: "Nasty!"