Thursday, February 11, 2010

A joke on you and me

You know when you keep reading about some album or other, and people are pissing all over themselves to douse the lava-flames of awesomeness that emanate from said album, except they like being engulfed by the overhyped lava so much that they don't panic when they run out of pee? They just drink more water? Except they do it carefully enough so that they don't spill any and cool the lava? Do you know this? Society says you're supposed to welcome the awesome death-flames because everyone else does. Well I'm going to say it: to hell with being burned by lava! To hell with skin grafts! To hell with The Marble Index!

Nothing bothers me more than someone claiming to like something because it's supposedly cool to do so. I am not cool, and I don't care to be. Who do I need to impress? Fitting in with the crowd is for chumps. Same thing goes for those who dislike something because it's popular. Who cares? I had similar rants in my anti-Clash diatribe and 1997 mixtape review. And then last month I picked Led Zeppelin's first album as the best one released in 1969—they are one of the most popular bands around, and a lot of assholes love them, but I'm not going to stop loving them because of that (though I'd be shocked if these assholes like "How Many More Times" as much as I do). Again, who cares?

I was reading Mojo awhile ago and it reviewed a reissue set of The Marble Index and Desertshore. I knew of both but was pretty sure I'd never heard anything off of either one—I own and enjoy her Chelsea Girl, though Mojo (and Nico) seemed to think it's a lightweight affair. Wikipedia tells me that Nico could never listen to it, "becust everyting I vanted for dat record, zey took eet away. I ast for drums, zey said no. I ast for more geetars, zey said no. Und I ast for simpleecity, und zey cover eet un flutes! Ze first time I hert ze album, I cried und eet vas all becust uff ze flute." Fuck all that—it's a good album and I am all over that flute. (As an aside, check out the band Ant Trip Ceremony for excellent sixties flute-playing. That is some sweet action!) I downloaded "I'm Not Sayin'" the other day, the Gordon Lightfoot cover that was her first single, and that's a great song too. I can see how she might have felt molded into something she wasn't on that one, but whatever, I like it. "Eef you luff me." And while she wasn't happy to be pushed around on Chelsea Girl, it's a fairly challenging album—not too many underground (at the time) performers were getting away with longer songs on major-label releases in '67. It's more challenging than her handful of tracks on The Velvet Underground and Nico, anyway.

I know what you're thinking: how can I enjoy a song like "It Was a Pleasure Then" and not find a redeeming quality in anything on The Marble Index? The answer is, I don't really know. I can appreciate that one for the same reason I enjoy some Ya Ho Wha 13 songs, I guess, in that it's far out but there's a definite organic feel to it. Everything on The Marble Index sounds like it was made in a lab by people who don't know what laughter is.

I went ahead and… acquired… the album for the sole purpose of discovering whether or not I liked it. As you've undoubtedly inferred, I think it's a pile of soulless crap. There are few seconds of anything traditionally enjoyable, admirable or artful. Go ahead and tell me I don't get it, because you're right. I un-get it so badly that upon hearing it I immediately feel the need to wash myself with The Mirror Man Sessions for eighty minutes.

Society as a whole doesn't have a blog. But I do, and I even write things sometimes. So let me tell you what's not to like—here's the breakdown, LP-style:

Side A
Prelude
Lawns of Dawns
No One Is There
Ari's Song
Facing the Wind

Side B
Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)
Frozen Warnings
Evening of Light

A1. Prelude
Coincidence that one of the better songs on the album is one minute long? Absolutely not. It reminds me of Christmas, and I like the sloppy edit at the end. Really lets you know it's a downhill fire-piss ride from here. The biggest mark against it is that it's first on the album and not last, and so there are seven assholes left to listen to. By the way, what did John Cale ever do that was so great? Sure, some innovative and exciting bass, viola and keyboard work with the Velvet Underground (he steals "Sister Ray") and a classic reading of "The Gift." What about the forty-two years since? What's worth seeking out? I'm asking because I don't know. Sure, the Velvets got worse after he left, but he got a lot worse. (I guess the same could be said for Lou Reed, but at least he recorded "The Blue Mask" and has been entertaining us with his Imhotep impression for twenty years.)

A2. Lawns of Dawn
I'll admit this song isn't bad, and progresses interestingly enough (aside from the vocals), but then the whole rest of the album just straight-out copies its example. (As in, I really like Pulp Fiction but I hate everything it influenced.) It is, however, the only song with any actual dynamism, and the novel idea of a beginning and an end. I understand it's this whole minimalist philosophy but to me that only means you're limiting yourself, you're in a hurry or you're dull.

A3. No One Is There
I like when bands record songs and slap on non-sequitur titles, something like Shellac's "Watch Song." That one's about wanting to fight some guy but where's with the aforementioned watch? Shellac has a sense of humor, so probably someone's watch broke while they were recording it. Or maybe someone stole one of their watches one night, and they're appealing to us to keep our eyes open for it the way they did for Bob Weston's coat on "Mantel." So there are the non-sequitur people, and then there are people who name a song after a chorus or repeated phrase from said song. Unwound's "Fingernails on a Chalkboard" is a great example of this, and the funny thing about that is I knew the phrase was going to be repeated throughout the song just from reading the title on the back of Repetition the day it came out, to the point where the only explanation is that I had to have heard it or read about it somewhere beforehand. (I also knew "Go to Dallas and Take a Left" was going to be an instrumental. The shine??) I can't tell you how many times he says "fingernails on a chalkboard" in the middle of that song, but see? Unwound has a sense of humor too—just ask Tom "Hindu Holy Men" Jones. Nico does not. She's German, so maybe it's not her fault. And, as you might have figured by now, no one is there. All uff them are missink.

A4. Ari's Song
I understand the point of this album was probably to break Nico out of her shell as, like, an unknown beautiful woman who may or may not have talent. I remember in either the Velvet Underground biography Up-tight or some in-depth magazine article there was a bit where she was complaining about her performance of "I'll Keep It With Mine" on Chelsea Girls, where she's saying "But I want to sound like Bubbee Deelan!" Later it documented how she ended her romantic relationship with Reed by telling him "I can no longer fuck a Jew." Anyway, she had a kid named Ari. This is his song. Sail away, Ari! You're free now! Unless you're dead, I don't know.

A5. Facing the Wind
This is the worst song I've ever heard. The piano-playing has so much not-soul it reminds me of the time my friends and I were inexplicably watching a video of a Nine Inch Nails performance (?) and one band member accidentally (you know, amid the chaos and nihilism of a Nine Inch Nails performance) knocked over his keyboard, and we could see that a couple of keys were taped down. The electrical tape had more passion than whoever (probably Cale) is striking this poor piano like it's a dead calculator. I think the recording engineer shoots himself at 3:22. Rest in peace, recording engineer.

During this welcome interval, let's discuss the rest of the people and/or things who drive me crazy with their undeserved popularity: the Pretenders (she gets a pass because she's a supposed tough chick with a cool haircut who writes her own songs, even though her songs suck and her band makes them sound even worse); Patti Smith (whose utter nonsense, shitty vocals and ugliness I will never enjoy, and like Chrissie Hynde her band is historically cheesy-sounding—hubby Fred's "City Slang" dances on the unattended grave of everything she's ever done); Heineken (I have nothing in common with people who enjoy this piss and it's evident that, for the most part, I no longer trust green-bottle beers); television ratings (have you ever met someone from a Nielsen family?); English bands who can only sing about English things (the Kinks are the exception that proves the rule); so-called Brooklyn "rock bands" (you can't name me one quality non-rap group from this overrated-in-every-sense-even-though-I've-only-been-there-once-maybe-twice borough other than Sir Lord Baltimore, and even they only had one great album); Brooklyn Brewery beers (see previous item); regular-season winning-streak records (thanks, Peyton, for validating the utter dominance of the Patriots over the last eight years); meteorology (I was happy to be able to leave work at 1:00 yesterday as the company went into panic mode but we got maybe a half inch of snow last night, as opposed to the "six to twelve plus" they'd been predicting for a week); Stephen Merritt and all his sad-sack bands (a long time ago I saw the Future Bible Heroes open for someone at T.T. the Bear's and he psychologically raped his fellow bandmates for a bad half hour—what a miserable prick). Enough already, all of you. And hey, LaDainian Tomlinson? You missed this list because everyone finally recognizes your plummeting skills and understands that you're a total punk bitch. Here we go with side two.

B1. Julius Caesar (Memento Hodié)
Picking up with the second side, I'm noticing that—strangely enough—these songs would have been better served as a single suite taking up a full side of the LP. They are boring and share a general Teutonic gloom, and this is the only thing that could make them work. "The Celebration of the Lizard" is the most ridiculous thing ever recorded but it hangs together precisely because it's hung together. Excepting "Not to Touch the Earth," which I still really like (don't get me wrong, I enjoy "The Celebration of the Lizard" in its entirety), no individual song has a whole lot to offer. But they somehow pull it off as one piece with the snake and the tribes and whatever he's mumbling about. From that point of view, The Marble Index could possibly work. The other side of the record could then be a bunch of Creedence covers.

B2. Frozen Warnings
I guess I don't mind this song too much. It borders on pretty, even. But it's the same goddamn thing, endlessly. Again. Maybe everyone does that (I don't pay attention to lyrics), but it's so prominent with her manner of singing. "Close to ze frozen borderline." I get it.

B3. Evening of Light
Smack in the middle of this song (a real charmer!) some nice guitar/bass/strings interplay starts bleeding in. It's quite good. But she's busy singing about jumping children and the end of time and so it's all for naught. I do really like the last twenty seconds of this, and it's fitting because it's the last bit of The Marble Index I'll ever listen to. Never again, Nico. Your lava drowns in my pee.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Saw that big-time James Cameron flick this weekend

I have to say I was impressed, it's a fresh take on a wonderful original idea. Many say the special effects steal the show, and that the narrative suffers from too many action-movie clichés, but I happen to like action movies. And yeah, the special effects are stunning.

So there's this alien planet. Humans have "colonized" there, not sure for how long but they are pretty well established with infrastructure, and are aware of how to survive and navigate the atmosphere and geography. Overt signs of hostility between the humans and the alien race they encounter are present, but that doesn't matter to the slimeball representative from "The Company." He only cares about harvesting something, likely for use as a weapon based on most everything the human characters bring to the story—this is clearly a military operation first and a scientific one second.

Cameron knows armaments, or a least has a futurist's grasp of armaments. Personnel vehicles too—you can see the roots of those transport ships back in The Terminator. He gets into combat tactics as well, and thankfully realizes that all the technical flair in the world can't always defeat a determined enemy with home-field advantage. (I love how the human troops only seem capable of looking straight ahead and not up and down, particularly since they were eventually decimated by an overhead attack.)

Alien was a slow-burning thriller and I think this film works just as well in its own way. Indeed, it holds up after almost twenty-five years—Aliens is that good.

Hey, we saw Avatar the other night too. It was pretty good.