Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why rock and roll had to happen

We just finished watching the first appearance of THE BEATLES on the Ed Sullivan Show.
ROUTE 1 reader Brian C. lent us a DVD set of the complete shows featuring the first four appearances by the Fab Four.
The DVDs include the full shows, including commercials and the poor acts that had to follow one of the hardest acts to follow in history.
After their first three songs, The Beatles were followed by Dutch magician FRED KAPS.
Welsh entertainer TESSIE O'SHEA appeared on that 1964 show as well.
O'Shea (later, she played the hostage/phone operator in "The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!") strummed a banjo and belted out Broadway hits.
She was earnest but OH SO BORING.
I turned to Jill and I said:
"This is why rock and roll had to happen."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hey Black Francis, how about a song about the U of O?

The great blog If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger, There'd be a whole lot of Dead Copycats (you can find it here), features several posts today about the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Immediately before, however, the blog features a photo of the Pixies -- the post represents an "in joke" among fans of the band.
The Pixies referenced Buñuel's 1929 landmark short film "Un Chien Andalou" in their song "Debaser." The film's signature scene features a closeup of an eye being slashed, and Pixies lead singer Black Francis sings:
"Got me a movie, I want you to know, slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know!" in obvious homage to the film.
I have been listening to the Pixies all morning, waiting for ESPN Gameday, broadcast this morning from Eugene, home of MY BELOVED OREGON DUCKS.
The Ducks take on the frightfully good Cal Bears this afternoon.
The Pixies have a song called "U-Mass" (Kurt Cobain obviously heard this one -- he so shamelessly copied it for "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), I wonder if they would ever sing about the U of O?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Rime of the Ancient FQ Answerer

ROUTE 1 readers might be feeling their age this week, as they answer the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"When was the last time you heard something that made you feel old?"
Mike M. -- While watching the Cowboys and Bears on Sunday Night Football last week, I caught myself reminiscing about Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Howard Cosell, and Monday Night Football.
Rob K. -- Never... until you asked this question. I never thought about age. It has been irrelevant to me... until now. Age is a state of mind more than body. One is only as old as they feel. I have always felt younger than my years... until now. A person's age only amounts to linear time mile markers whose significance relates solely to quantity not quality. The quality of my life has always been much more important... until now.
Rick T. -- "Man, you're getting gray!" That will do it.
Roseanne H. -- Realizing that my son has been out of college for 20 years.
Gary D. -- When a co-worker (who shall remain nameless) said: "I was born the year you were hired here."
Erik H. -- My wife Jill gave me a tour of her new office building the other day. When we reached one cubicle, she introduced me to the woman sitting at the desk and said: "This is the girl who played piano at our wedding."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rod is in fine form

In his review of "Pool Hall Richard" in a 1973 Melody Maker, Chris Welch wrote that "Rod is in fine throaty form, and the band get into such a groove, they threaten to dismantle the studio."
I had to drive to Cassville, Wis., for an interview this afternoon. I listened to my Faces box set during the 80-mile round trip.
As great as the Mercury-era Rod Stewart singles were, I think these Faces songs were greater.
I love "Maggie May" and "Mandolin Wind," but "Stay With Me," "Cindy Incidentally" and yes, "Pool Hall Richard" are better.
Stewart had a voice tailored for rock and roll. Yet most of his most memorable solo singles (including "(Finally Found a) Reason to Believe" and "You Wear it Well") are slow to medium grooves.
With the Faces, Stewart could really cut loose and *ROCK.*
Before too long, his career would become mired in pop and disco dross, but at least with the Faces, Stewart truly soared.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reveling in stardom

I have been listening to DAVID BOWIE's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" as I drive around today.
It has been ages since I listened to this great collection of songs, and as I drove I thought the Bowie might be the rocker who has had the most FUN being a rock star.
Consider the changing of personas from album to album. Consider the dramatic retirement in 1973 and the just as dramatic return a short while later.
Consider the way he held the pop media in thrall, as well as fans.
Bowie kept himself in the headlines better than any contemporary.
In a Melody Maker concert review from July 1972, Ray Coleman describes Bowie as "obviously reveling in stardom, strutting from mic to mic, slaying us all with a deadly mixture of fragility and desperate intensity."
Bowie has said in interviews that he suffered during the "Ziggy" years, losing himself in his character more often than not.
I think half of Bowie's fun was media manipulation -- "gay or straight?" they all asked, as if it mattered.
Nope. I can't take what Bowie says at face value. I think because his act has always seemed designed to increase his own "fun value."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"We've done four already but now we're steady"

John "Bonzo" Bonham passed away 27 years ago today.
I have been listening to a fair amount of Led Zeppelin lately, and here are three of my favorite "Bonzo" moments on record:
1) Who can ever forget the "Godzilla stomp" that opens "When the Levee Breaks?"
Bonham, a drum kit down a stairwell and distance miking combined to creating the biggest drum BOOM on record.
2) "We've done four already, but now we're steady, and then they went one-two-three-four." That's what Bonzo says as he counts in the opening of "The Ocean." You remember that song, don't you? The Beastie Boys used it to form their song "She's Crafty."
3) Some people remember "D'yer Maker" for its reggae vibe or for Robert Plant's "oh-oh-oh-ohohoh!"
I remember it for another great Bonham performance. The drums propel the underrated song along.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Has it really been 20 years?

Now I feel as old as the kids say I am -- and they're mean, they always ask what it was like to ride on the back of a dinosaur.
Annika and I just heard a sound clip of the UK national charts show on BBC Radio 1 from early October 1987. Thanks to the emergence of computers, that show marked the first time the charts reflected that week's actual Top 40 (as opposed to the laboriously tabulated chart from five days' previously).
As Radio One DJ Bruno Brookes reached the top spot, Annika and I both wondered what would be No. 1.
"For the second straight week, the No. 1 spot is held by M/A/R/R/S," Brookes said.
Wow! As we heard the first few notes of "Pump Up the Volume," I turned to Annika and said:
"I know this one!"
How many times have I heard it? That's anyone's guess.
What I cannot believe is that it has been 20 years since the emergence of "Pump Up the Volume."
Surely that cannot be! Why, I used to dance to that song in college, and it can't have been 20 years since I was in -- oops. I guess it could have been 20 years.
My, that makes me feel old.
Not "riding on a dinosaur" old, but still old.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Murder should be an art"

Filmmaking can be an art, especially when the film is Alfred Hitchcock's "ROPE."
I watched it tonight.
Farley Granger and John Dall play roommates (domestic partners, probably) who think they have planned and executed the perfect murder.
Too bad James Stewart figures out their scheme.
Dall, who played the manipulated Bart in Joseph H. Lewis' "Gun Crazy," is one of my favorite actors. He plays the manipulating Brandon in "Rope" -- a man who thinks his intellectual standing permits him to get away with anything, including the murder of school friend David Kentley.
"The good Americans usually die young on the battlefield, don't they?" Brandon asks Granger's Phillip. "Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder."
Hitchcock shot "Rope" to make it appear as if there were no cuts (the five or so cuts were disguised), so that it looked like one continuous scene during the course of the 90 or so minutes.
The plot requires a slowly building tension, and the seemingly continuous tracking shots help to create the tension that is only released at the film's end. Great stuff.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More than "Ten Years Gone"

I had a rather uncomfortable relationship with LED ZEPPELIN when I was a kid.
I owned "Presence" on eight-track and I really liked that album. However, I generally avoided songs such as "Stairway to Heaven" and "Rock and Roll," simply because they were played almost constantly on rock radio at the time.
Then punk came along and I devoted most of my listening to post-punk and the emerging new wave sound.
I'm older now, and in the intervening years I have immersed myself in music I missed the first time around: I adore classic R & B, jazz and blues.
Now, I also find myself more attuned to the overall greatness of Led Zeppelin, I think because they also adored classic R & B, jazz and blues, and it showed in everything they recorded.
This morning I listened to "Physical Graffiti" and decided that the three-song progression from "Houses of the Holy" to "Trampled Underfoot" to "Kashmir" is one of my favorite three-song combinations on any record I own.
I also realized how much I love the song "Ten Years Gone."
It still irks me that Led Zeppelin seemed to take songwriting credits when they really should have given proper due to the originals. I mean, come on, can't you give BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON his due for "In My Time of Dying?"
Still, that quibble aside, I find myself much more a fan of the band than all those years ago.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Question looks to the funny pages

ROUTE 1 readers appreciate the comic artists. Today, they answer the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is your favorite cartoonist -- or -- what is your favorite cartoon or comic strip?"
Annika H. -- "Tintin," definitely "Tintin."
Dave B. -- This is a no-brainer: "Calvin and Hobbes."
Mike M. -- My favorite comics are quirky, strange, and nonsensical, like Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County" and "Opus," Gary Larson's "The Far Side," and Bill Griffith's "Zippy the Pinhead." From The New Yorker: Gahan Wilson, George Booth, Roz Chast, and William Steig. From comics: Robert Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Joe Sacco, Daniel Clowes, and Guy Delisle.
Rick T. -- "The Flintstones!"
Madelin F. -- Favorite cartoon was "Nancy." My brother drew a spoof cartoon of me looking like her when I was little and I laughed until my sides hurt. Nancy, the cartoon, wasn't even that funny. I just liked the way it was drawn.
Rob K. -- "Doonesbury." Great imagination and creativity and the characters are a kick.
Mary N.-P. -- It's always been and will be "The Far Side" -- gently weird sense of humor (I can relate to that!).
Kerstin H. -- Chas Addams and his "Addams Family" cartoons.
Mike D. -- Growing up, my favorite comic strip was "Nancy" by Ernie Bushmiller. It was simply drawn and had minimal dialogue. Many years later, Gary Larson's "The Far Side" topped my list. His odd humor, usually dealing with misfits or the animal kingdom, was something new. The imagination of Bill Watterson's character in "Calvin and Hobbes" was also appealing. As far as the drawings themselves, the panels created by "Dennis the Menace's" Hank Ketchum (and successors) are truly works of art. Nowadays, I still find myself drawn to the simpler or single-panel comics like "Frank and Ernest," "Bliss" and "Lio." But my current favorite is "Dilbert." I guess I can relate to the office politics and personalities. P.S. -- Does anyone remember "Onion Ring," published in the Lorian in the mid-1980s? I didn't think so.
Brian C. -- If I have time to look at only one comic in a day, I check out "Dilbert." However, "Get Fuzzy" is a favorite, too.
Erik H. -- I will never forget the visual thrill of seeing my first collection of Will Eisner's "The Spirit" comics. "The Spirit" has been called "The Citizen Kane of Comics" because of Eisner's ground-breaking style. Action spills out of a frame on one page, or takes up an entire page without frames on another. Eisner broke the rules he felt should be broken to move along the story -- which was invariably entertaining. I have also adored Hergé's "The Adventures of Tintin" since I was a kid. The artwork is astounding, and the stories have kept me -- and now my girls -- riveted for years.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Goodbye to the Special One

"Oh My God!"
My family wondered what had happened when I logged onto the BBC News Web site last night and let out a shout of surprise.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had sensationally left the club, 24 hours after a draw with Norway's Rosenborg in the Champions League.
So Mourinho, the self-styled "Special One" had led Chelsea to two Premier League titles since joining the club in June 2004.
With his outrageous quotes in the British media, his feuds with other managers and his magnificent arrogance, the Portuguese boss was easily as big a star as any of his players.
He clashed with the club's Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, however, and now the Special One is gone.
Chelsea have already appointed a successor -- at least on a temporary basis. Israeli Avram Grant was the club's director of football. He will take charge alongside coach Steve Clarke.
According to reports in Portugal, Mourinho could step in for Luiz Felipe Scolari to try to guide his homeland to the Euro 2008 finals. Scolari has just been banned by UEFA for the remaining four matches of the campaign.
Still, it could be worse for Chelsea supporters.
My club, Sheffield Wednesday, have lost six straight matches in the Championship -- the Owls' worst start in history.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Astonishing stuff

Michael Schumacher, in "Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton," writes that during the musician's year with the Bluesbreakers, Clapton "had developed his creative and technical abilities on guitar at an astonishing rate."
After listening to John Mayall's "Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton" for the past several days, I can't help but agree with Schumacher's assessment.
Clapton's guitar playing is amazing on this album -- which Schumacher calls "one of the great British blues albums of the period" but what I think must surely be the greatest British blues album of ANY period.
Mayall is great as well, whether he is blowing his harmonica, banging on the piano or organ or simply singing with a distinctive voice that wholly suits the blues.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And not a can of spinach in sight

The past few days I have been reading a book of "Thimble Theater" comic strips from 1929.
The Elzie Crisler Segar strip featured the debut of POPEYE on Jan. 17, 1929, but in those days the wisecracking sailor man only played a supporting role and didn't need any spinach to provide a timely and effective punch.
William Randolph Hearst brought Segar to New York in 1919 to start work on a daily comic strip for the national Hearst newspaper chain. "Thimble Theater" debuted in December 1919 in the New York Journal.
It would be another decade before Segar's most famous creation made an appearance. When Popeye did appear, he was little more than a foil for Castor Oyl, Olive Oyl's brother and the strip's main character at that time.
Popeye eventually became a cultural phenomenon as the flapper age gave way to the Great Depression, and Max Fleischer's Popeye cartoons for Paramount Studios cemented the sailor's place in American lore.
Sadly, Segar did not live long after Popeye's emergence on the national scene. Segar died on Oct. 13, 1938.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Was he ever called a man?

I just heard one of the most powerful recorded statements against racism.
"When I was born into this world, this is what happened to me," sang BIG BILL BROONZY. "I was never called a man, and now I'm 53."
Broonzy's "When Will I Get to be Called a Man" is one of the songs on "Trouble in Mind," a collection of the blues artist's Folkways recordings from the late 1950s. I am listening to it as I drive around today.
In this song, Broonzy wonders when whites will treat him as an equal, rather than continuing to refer to him by the dismissive label "boy."
"Black man's a boy, don't care what he do," he sang.
Broonzy details the racism he encountered throughout his life, even while serving in the military.
"When Uncle Sam called me, I knowed I'd be called a real McCoy," Broonzy sang. "But I got none of this, they just called me soldier boy."
Broonzy was one of the first blues singers to migrate north to Chicago and record. However, while younger contemporaries plugged in electric guitars and found success in the late 1940s and early 50s, Broonzy stuck with the acoustic blues of his Arkansas and Mississippi roots. His style fell out of favor, and Broonzy took menial labor jobs to support himself. He even worked for a period of time as a janitor at Iowa State University!
Eventually, Broonzy's songs became popular among the lovers of folk songs in the late 1950s.
He should have enjoyed additional popularity during the "Blues Revival" of the 1960s, but throat cancer cut short Broonzy's life and he passed away in 1958.
I sure hope people had quit calling him "boy" by then, but I doubt it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sometimes musical ignorance can be bliss

Jill and the girls are sneezing, sniffling, coughing and complaining -- an early season autumn cold virus has swept through the house.
So far, I have been able to fend off the vicious bug with a nightly combination of brandy and jazz.
Their colds seem to be getting worse, so this morning I have added jazz to my coffee (the brandy might come later, we'll see).
In his "New Grove Dictionary of Jazz," Barry Kernfeld wrote that pianist McCoy Tyner "has been a major influence in the adoption in jazz of quartal and quintal harmonies, modes and pentatonic scales."
Is it a bad thing that I have only the vaguest idea what Kernfeld is talking about?
I've always thought one of the hindrances in mainstream acceptance of some jazz has been the notion that only listeners armed with a musical theory degree can adequately appreciate the genre.
I'm here to tell you that the above notion is wrong.
I might not be able to tell a quartal from a quintal harmony, but I know I LOVE the Tyner song "Search for Peace" on his album "The Real McCoy."
Does my lack of knowledge mean I love the song any less than a musical theorist? Surely not!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Who was your favorite actor/actress as a kid?

Fall is a good time to settle down and watch some films.
ROUTE 1 readers recall some film memories by answering this week's FRIDAY QUESTION:
"Who was your favorite actor/actress when you were a kid?"
Mike D. -- Possibly my first favorite actor – and we're talking about my K-
through-elementary school days – was Johnny Whittaker. He starred in "Family Affair" or, as we called it, "Buffy and Jody." The curly-haired, freckle-faced kid was not much older than me, and went on to star in such Disney productions as "The Biscuit Eater" and "Mystery in Dracula's Castle." Of course, he later appeared in the Sid and Marty Kroft Saturday morning classic "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" with his co-star from the Dracula film.
Rick T -- Annette Funicello! I think every American boy in the 50s and 60s was in love with Annette.
Ellen B. -- I must admit, Marie and Donnie Osmond from the Donnie and Marie Show.
Mary N.-P. -- Whew, this will really "age" me, but I loved watching anything with Audie Murphy or Richard Burton. I didn't really have a favorite actress.
Roseanne H. -- There were so many, but my favorites were Doris Day (loved her funny movies), Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.
Brian C. -- If I had to think about this, maybe I didn't have a clear "favorite." But I guess it was Paul Newman. In "Cool Hand Luke," "Butch Cassidy..." and "The Sting" he was, well, cool.
Mike M. -- I had quite a crush on Jane Seymour, from "Battlestar Galactica," the TV miniseries "East of Eden" and the James Bond movie "Live and Let Die.
Erik H. -- When I was a kid, I didn't even know my favorite actor's name. That's because Haruo Nakajima (pictured above) rarely emerged from his heavy Godzilla suit. Nakajima portrayed the famous big monster in 12 films, including one of my favorites from childhood, "Kaiju Soshingeki (Destroy all Monsters)," from 1968. I cherished the times our local Bay Area television stations would broadcast Godzilla movies. All those times, I would marvel at Nakajima's acting ability. Boy, nobody could smash Tokyo quite like he could!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I hope the gig is on DVD eventually

I was not one of the estimated 20 million people who nearly crashed a Web site while registering for LED ZEPPELIN tickets.
Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to see the reformed band at the O2 arena on Nov. 26.
Two obstacles (at least) stand in my way:
1) I probably can't get to London that day.
2) I don't really have a spare $250 lying around to spend on one concert.
Oh well.
I have been listening to a Led Zeppelin playlist while driving around, since I heard the news yesterday.
Last night, as I picked up Kerstin from her dance class, the song on the playlist was "Thank You," which I consider one of the band's best songs. Nobody talks much about it, however, but that might be one of the reasons why I like it.
The Led Zeppelin songs that I like the best are the ones that have not been overplayed on classic rock radio.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Impeach / Van Buren / 12 Galaxies / Guiltied to a / Omegalogical / Theoretical analysis

Kerstin and I watched an interesting documentary about perennial San Francisco protester/local celebrity FRANK CHU this morning.
"Lunch Inside the 12 Galaxies," by Jim Dirschberger, is a 16-minute chronicle of Chu, who has become a familiar picket-sign-carrying personality in San Francisco. You can find the documentary here.
Chu's black signs with fluorescent lettering only hint at the root of his protest:
Massachusetts / 12 Galaxies / Quintronic criminals / Time Magazine: Star / Hextrotronic Oscillating Ebullient inoculations.

Chu blames Bill Clinton for withholding royalty payments due him. Chu contends the CIA filmed Chu and other family members as part of a reality show called "The Richest Family." Filmed with technologically advanced, hidden cameras, the show was broadcast in solar systems within the 12 Galaxies.
Chu sounds like someone suffering from schizophrenia. Or he could be a highly developed and slyly hip performance artist.
Farber / 12 Galaxies / Humanoid Martians / CNN: Zotrorhotikul Coverage / Phoxrozenical / Intergalatial Rocket / Vacations.
In any other town, Chu would be institutionalized or chased out of town.
In San Francisco, Chu is celebrated for his eccentricities, viewed as a civic institution. The 12 Galaxies bar is named for Chu's cause, and the protester receives free beer upon entering the establishment. The San Francisco Bay Guardian alternative newspaper has named Chu "Best Protester" in its annual awards round-up.
Is Chu crazy, or a crazy like a fox artist?
My guess would be a little of both: He carries business cards that say "Protesting against the 12 Galaxies of populations since 1988."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

When the wind keeps rattling windows and making other strange noises at lunchtime

The wind keeps rattling windows and making other strange noises as I read the H. P. LOVECRAFT story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" during my lunch break.
The story concerns a strange, isolated New England town and the insular and peculiar people who populate the place.
A bus driver from the town is described thusly:
"He had a narrow head, bulging, watery blue eyes that seemed never to wink, a flat nose, a receding forehead and chin, and singularly undeveloped ears. His long, thick lip and coarse-pored, greyish cheeks seemed almost beardless except for some sparse yellow hairs that straggled and curled in irregular patches; and in places the surface seemed queerly irregular, as if peeling from some cutaneous disease."
I think Lovecraft does a consistently wonderful job of making his readers seem ill at ease.
His stories initially seem believable, but then a jarring irregularity seems to add several layers of CREEPINESS over the entire proceedings.
It's fun stuff to read. Except, perhaps, when the wind
keeps rattling windows and making other strange noises at lunchtime.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Comfort music

On a chilly evening, it warmed me like the aural equivalent of chicken noodle soup.
I listened to "Independence Day" by the ComSat Angels while sitting in the car, waiting for the girls to finish with dance class.
I shivered as temperatures dipped on an overcast evening following a rain-soaked day.
"Independence Day" made me smile and forget the chill.
I have loved this 1980 single from the moment I first heard it -- in all likelihood on "The Quake" (KQAK 98.9), San Francisco's late modern rock pioneering radio station.
If lasagna or meatloaf serve as comfort food, then "Independence Day" serves as "comfort music" for me. It's good to know it is always there.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Bye and bye I will hear the angel sing"

And in all likelihood, at least this time of the year, that angel might be singing:
"Throw it to Vincent Jackson! Throw it to Vincent Jackson! No! Not Antonio Gates... throw it to Vincent Jackson!"
Then, Vincent Jackson will look like he is about to catch a sure touchdown pass, but the perfectly thrown pass will bounce harmlessly off his shoulder pads onto the ground.
Today, when I wasn't yelling at the TV, slapping my head with dismay or furtively checking to see if D.J. Hackett had scored for Seattle (he hadn't), I was listening to the mournful, 80-year-old gospel songs of BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON.
I can't seem to get enough of Blind Willie these days.
Here is what Geoffrey Himes wrote of Johnson in a 1990 issue of The Washington Post:
"Johnson's raspy voice takes some getting used to, but once you do, the drive and passion of the music will grab you and not let go. Johnson's versions of "John the Revelator," "I Can't Keep From Crying" and "If I Had My Way" are so compelling that it is easy to understand why these hymns became staples of the '60s folk revival."
Blind Willie Johnson's songs -- recorded on simplistic equipment and weathered over the eight or so decades -- sound like they come straight out of some mysterious depth.
They provide comfort, too, especially when you beg the San Diego Chargers to throw to Vincent Jackson, and when they finally do toss the ball his way, the wide receiver on your fantasy team lets the ball bounce harmlessly onto the ground.
Grrr! D'oh! It's gonna be a loooong fantasy football season.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The film that has everything

I have to work today and thus will likely miss watching MY BELOVED OREGON DUCKS during their trip to Michigan to face a Wolverines team still smarting from a monumental upset.
That's not altogether bad -- me missing the game -- as I always fear I will jinx my favorite teams if I watch them.
Luckily, I have no such fears about watching my favorite films.
I watched Akira Kurosawa's "Nora Inu (Stray Dog)" on DVD again last night. This 1949 crime drama is probably my favorite film (although I have so many iron-clad favorites, such a designation is probably moot).
The film, I decided, has just about everything a cinematic work could ever need:
1) It has an engaging story of a rookie detective (Toshiro Mifune) who has his gun stolen.
2) It has a wonderful cast, including Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Isao Kimura (pictured) in a small but influential role.
3) Kurosawa (no additional explanation necessary).
4) Great cinematography by Asakazu Nakai.
5) Compelling second-unit direction (particularly of black-market scenes) by Ishiro Honda -- later to find fame at the helm of "Gojira" and its spawn of "Godzilla" movies.
6) Baseball! A stakeout at a Giants v. Hawks baseball game provides a glimpse at such post-war stars as Tetsuharu Kawakami, the so-called "God of Batting" and a Yomiuri Giants legend as both a player and manager.
7) Sex, crime, action, cute kids, etc. and etc. -- you know, all of the other things a great film should feature.
After about the 100th time of muttering, "Gosh, I love this film," I concluded that "Nora Inu" surely must have everything. At least, everything I need in a film.
Well, no need to worry about my being a jinx. I actually saw much of the first half on the newsroom television set and saw the second half at home as MY BELOVED OREGON DUCKS put a (rather satisfying) hurting on Michigan, 39-7. Ahh... Good times.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Relax -- It's Finally Friday

It was a hectic week for some of us.
ROUTE 1 readers did find some ways to relax, judging from the answers to this week's FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What music has helped you chill out this week?"
Inger H. -- I took a walk this morning through the smoky, foggy air and The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" was the perfect accompaniment to the weird orange-grey light and the strange sight of the sun as a perfect bright orange disk creeping higher in the sky.
Mike D. -- At least twice this week, I relaxed to classical music on KUNI. No screaming guitars or screeching lyrics, just the soft, mellow sounds of a symphony.
Rick T. -- Listening to my Old Country Music on my XM Radio (No. 13, Willie's Place). It plays all the classics.
Erik H. -- It is difficult to explain to non-sports freaks the thrill, anxiety, stress and joy of a FANTASY FOOTBALL DRAFT. OK, it is really rather GEEKY. I guess that explains it.
I relaxed en route home from last night's edition of the annual draft while listening to Oliver Nelson's "The Blues and the Abstract Truth." The pianist is Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy mostly plays the flute (and a little alto sax) and the rest of the band is similarly top-notch.
It calmed my nerves after the evening's infusion of GEEKY EXCITEMENT.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A can't-miss film

Everybody else went to bed fairly early last night, so I settled down and watched "Bad Day at Black Rock" on DVD.
Spencer Tracy stars as McCreedy, a one-armed man unraveling the shameful secret that haunts an insular small town in the desert.
Robert Ryan stars as the ranch owner who bullies the townsfolk into submission, with the help of cronies Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin.
Director John Sturges and cinematographer William C. Mellor do a fantastic job, particularly with some memorable shot composition. The narrative pacing is also excellent, as we learn the secret along with McCreedy.
I highly recommend "Bad Day at Black Rock." I put this 1955 film in the "can't miss" category.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

So Sharp... and so hot!

Do the next couple of days represent summer's "last blast?" seems to think so -- their forecasters say Dubuque's high temperature could reach 88 degrees today, hang around the 80s for a few days, then drop into the mid-70s for the next two weeks at least.
To celebrate the coming of some "really nice days," and to pay my respects to the HEAT, I am listening to some SCORCHING FUNK from Phoenix, Ariz.'s own DYKE & THE BLAZERS this morning.
I went to high school in Phoenix, where what some people called a "dry heat" felt more like opening an oven door.
Dyke & The Blazers seem like the perfect sort of band to come from the Valley of the Sun. I can't listen without moving around and starting to sweat -- even in the dead of winter!
So, if you see me sweating and dancing around today, blame both Dyke & The Blazers AND the heat.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"He was a different sort of person"

When you finish reading this post, head on over to YouTube and check out the three-part documentary, "The Wild World of Hasil 'Haze' Adkins."
You can find part one here.
The documentary provides almost everything you need to know about Adkins, the so-called "Father of Psychobilly."
You want to see women fighting in a dive bar to have the right to sit next to Adkins? It's in here. You want to see bemused law officers and defense attorneys discussing "the guy who lives in a $40 shack in Boone County, W.V., who was a rock star in Europe?" It's in here.
You want to hear Adkins shriek his lyrics to songs that sound exactly the same?
It's all in this great documentary on an influential performer who eluded the attention of most of mainstream America.
Adkins (1937-2005) was more than just a "local legend," as the documentary recounts. In fact, the film hints at his broader cult fame as the rockabilly artist who sang the frantic, demented proto-punk classic "She Said" and created a supposedly "dirty dance" called "The Hunch."
Adkins once said his primary influences were Hank Williams, Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, Little Richard and Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Col. Harlan Sanders -- Adkins did sing about "commodity meat" from time to time, whatever that means.
Adkins himself serves as a primary influence for a number of punk rock, post-punk, neo-rockabilly and other modern rockers.
There was only one "Haze" Adkins, though, as you will see from the documentary. So, what are you waiting for? Head over to YouTube and type in "The Wild World of Hasil "Haze" Adkins," before it's too late.

Monday, September 03, 2007

I laughed so hard I frightened the cats

This morning I celebrated Labor Day with a healthy dose of laughter, courtesy of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
"What's up with it, Vanilla face? Me and my homie Azamat just parked our slab outside. We're looking for somewhere to post up our Black a$$es for the night. So, uh, bang bang, skeet skeet, n!gga. Just a couple of pimps, no hos."
There are so many funny scenes. There are so many uncomfortable scenes. There are so many uncomfortably funny scenes!
Unfortunately, I laughed so hard during the infamous wrestling scene -- and the subsequent full-frontal dash through the mortgage bankers' convention -- that I upset the cats sitting next to me on the couch.
Sorry cats...
Sacha Baron Cohen's mockumentary is just too funny. I can't help but laugh.
"There lives Nursultan Tulyakbay. He's still a$$hole. I get iPod, he only get iPod Mini. Everybody know it for girls!"

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"If I don't read it my soul be lost, nobody's fault but mine"

Blind Willie Johnson's music makes me say "Praise the Lord!"
I listened to Johnson all morning.
Not much is really known about Johnson, the Texas country blues-gospel performer who recorded between 1927 until 1930.
Legend says his step-mother blinded him at age 7 by tossing lye into his face.
That might be true.
Legend says he died following a house fire, when he and his wife were forced to live in the charred ruins and that a hospital refused him admittance because of his blindness.
That might be true, too.
Few records exist concerning Johnson's life, according to a story in the Austin American-Statesman. A reporter tracked down a surviving daughter, but she didn't know much about her father, who is considered one of history's greatest slide guitar players.
Therein lies the irony: Although we don't know much about Johnson's life, his music has influenced generations of musicians.
Consider the cover versions:
Led Zeppelin performed "Nobody's Fault But Mine."
Eric Clapton performed "Motherless Child" (Johnson called the song, "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time").
Bob Dylan performed "In My Time of Dying" (a version of Johnson's "Jesus, Make Up My Dying Bed").
The Grateful Dead, the Staple Singers and others have performed "If I Had My Way, I'd Tear the Building Down."
It's hard to avoid Johnson's excellent music. Too bad we don't know much about the man.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"...and it belongs, to everyone but us..."

"It's called love, love, love, love, love, love."
Annika and I listened to New Order's "Thieves Like Us" en route to Anamosa, Iowa, to pick my niece (Annika's cousin) Gabrielle.
As I listened to the song, I couldn't help but think about the turbulence that has struck this most venerable of the post-punk bands.
Bassist Peter Hook threatened to take band mates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris to court, following their announced plans to continue as New Order without him.
The band is no stranger to moments of animosity among the members, but when Hook announced the Manchester group's split earlier this year, it really did seem like the end of the era.
New Order emerged out of Joy Division, following the death of iconic vocalist Ian Curtis, and the band's career path has influenced countless other bands.
Arguably, New Order proved that indie bands could weld smart rock to dance beats, and they made that musical marriage work in wonderful ways.
They may have finally parted ways now, however, which makes me sad and a bit nostalgic.
New Order are one of those bands that have provided very specific memories for me. I can recall, for example, the exact moment I first heard the 1986 single "Shellshock." I was sitting in my college dorm room, heard the opening notes of the tune, and I said to myself:
"They have done it again."