Question of the Week #7

Question:

You are a writer and a filmmaker, so what’s up with writing about music once a week? Wouldn’t writing about writing or film on a weekly basis make more sense?

Answer:

It absolutely would. The not so clever answer as to why I am doing what I am doing is that I don’t pretend to have any knowledge or expertise regarding music. I listen to it, I like what I like and my goal with Music Mondays is to try and share this with other people.

Since I don’t have anything professionally invested in music I find it is easier and more freeing to try and write about the subject. If I were to try and offer up a book each week or even a film there would be pressure (applied only by me) to have each post really say something. To try and offer some deep analysis, or to dig up obscure works and try and offer something new about them.

It saddens me, but I have gone this route before, even with the See it Again section I have on this site. I have numerous drafts of films that I want to share but when I sit and try and write why I think you should give them another chance, unless I have some big, impressive point to make, it feels like I am failing.

Not so with music. I am not sure I said anything that pretends to be insight this week but that does not trouble me. As I have stated I listen to music and I enjoy it, that is where my relationship with music ends. I actively try and create stories and because of this I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the processes – even attempting to study how other people create, and this takes the fun out of trying to write something like a blog post about books or movies.

I plan to work on this though because I love to talk about both so the next logical step would be to try and write about them. As with everything I simply need to change my way of thinking about this matter and then everything will fall into place. This weekly thing might be a bit much though. We shall see.

Music Mondays #6

So last week was a bit underwhelming. The truth is I do not get the kind of exposure I would like to new music and trying to post weekly is proving a bit of a challenge. Do I really want to try and dredge up something obscure? Do I play it safe with battle tested bands?

What I had hoped was posting weekly would inspire me to search out new music but truthfully that is not happening. I attempt and most often I fail. I find very little new music that I love. The purpose of these posts is to share music I enjoy and think others will enjoy so it strikes me as absurd to shy away from music and musicians that I know well. That being said…

This week I am writing about Jack White. Kind of a household name at this point, undoubtedly not news to anyone. So why write about him? He’s interesting for one thing. Although I have not listened to The Upholsters (his first band) I am certain some of their music is good. I am mentioning them to explain their exclusion from this post.

The band he is most famous for, The White Stripes, has had plenty said about them already. For a two-piece band I am still shocked when I listen to songs like “Seven Nation Army” that they managed to disguise the instruments being played. For the longest time I would have sworn there was a bass in the song, delivering a bass line that drives the entire song and makes it so memorable.

As much as I like some of the early works of the band it truly is with their final studio album where this band started to evolve into something special. Get Behind me Satan is an excellent album filled with one great song after another. In thinking about what to try and share for this post I have continually changed my mind as to which particular song would best convey the album. Try as I might I cannot shun “The Denial Twist”. I debated using a lesser-known song but this one is too excellent not to share. I would like to point out that this version of the song does not feature the guitar at all, which for this band is a radical departure.

Next I would like to share the theme song that Jack White did with Alicia Keys – “Another Way to Die”. As I have posted earlier I think people should give the film this is attached to another chance (Quantum of Solace). Much like the film this song is a departure for the James Bond franchise. First it is a duet. Second it rocks. Not just a little either. This is a rocking, all out, not for your grandparents kind of song. The type of song I would have thought Chris Cornell would have attempted for the previous film but instead he adapted his singing to the traditional James Bond theme song and gave the world something utterly forgettable.

Whether you love this or hate it you will certainly remember “Another Way to Die”.

Next there is his work with one of his two “supergroups” The Raconteurs. They have released two albums and quite a few excellent songs. So much of the dynamic of The White Stripes, structuring the band around the playing style of Meg White, shaped what the band could do. With the Raconteurs these limitations are gone and the results are most enjoyable. Jack White shares lead vocal duties with Brendon Benson. Both of them bring something unique to the band and the songs where they alternate are quite good. There is not much more I can say, the band has a lot of talent and their sound is much more mainstream than The White Stripes.

The other “supergroup” which shares members with The Raconteurs, is The Dead Weather. Their sound is stranger, their music at turns more aggressive and contemplative but I find equally interesting and rewarding. They, too, have recorded two albums and released numerous videos of interest. One of their more accessible songs, “I Cut Like a Buffalo” has two videos. Both are odd. I am opting to share a different video here in the hope that since this post contains so many that I can get a little arty with you and it will be okay.

Finally we have Jack White recording music as a solo artist. I find the two albums he has recorded to be much like the early White Stripes records. They contain some excellent songs but they are, largely, uneven. I am posting one of the slower songs here because he does this just as well as the heavy, angst-ridden tracks we all know so well.

So that’s it, my rather long post about the bands of Jack White. I find him to be an inspiring and interesting musician at a time when most confuse or bore me. His company, Third Man Records, is devoted to breathing new life and interest in vinyl which is something I whole-heartedly support (if you have not seen it the documentary – “The Distortion of Sound” might win you over to the cause). His commitment to the pageantry and showmanship of his profession is commendable and I am thankful someone like Jack White is still out there doing his thing.

If you have not seen the documentary, “It Might Get Loud” I highly recommend it. Not only do you get to spend time with Jack White, Jimmy Page and The Edge but you get to see the three together talking and playing some music. It was this film that took my piqued my interest regarding Jack White. It might just do the same for you, too.

Question of the Week #6

Question:

Are you planning on watching the Oscars? If so, what do you like about them? If not, why not?

Answer:

I see how it is, a question within a question! I did not watch the Oscars. The why is because I don’t find them interesting. I don’t find them fair or honest in their purpose. I don’t feel that they have defined their categories well enough to begin to make educated decisions.

If I were in the industry, making films and working with the people who receive the awards I might find it interesting or worthwhile to pay attention to the Oscars but since I am not the importance of who-wins-what escapes me. So Birdman won best picture (and other categories, I know). Does this increase my interest in seeing the film? Not really. I was pretty keen to watch it prior to the all of the accolades it has amassed yet I did not buy the film tonight, I am still waiting to rent it. Conversely, I have no interest in watching The Theory of Everything despite Eddie Redmayne winning best actor.

The main problem I have with awards like the Oscars is that there is little to no objectivity. Humphrey Bogart felt that it was impossible to compare actors unless they were performing the same role and I suppose I do as well. Did Michael Keaton not carry Birdman, winner of every major award? Was his performance in some way subpar? What did he not do that Eddie Redmayne did? Was it that The Theory of Everything was subpar on other levels which allowed Mr. Redmayne’s performance to shine that much brighter? It is impossible to say and is, quite frankly, arbitrary. Which is why I feel that the choosing of who-gets-what is dishonest. It is not about best because as it is there is no clear or obvious way to determine what “best” is. Which is part of the reason that some years you have all sorts of small films that are more “independent” that sweep the Oscars and other years where it seems exclusive to big budget blockbusters.

The Oscars suffer from being the pinnacle of awards for filmmaking. They cannot take the risks that other, lesser, awards can take. The Golden Globes can not only take greater risks but they also have created more categories and separated drama and comedy so that two entirely different kinds of filmmaking can be judged according to their means and abilities. Which of course is one of the major problems with having all different kinds of films compete with one another. If film A wants to make you laugh, film B make you cry, film C make you terrified and film D wants to entertain you with action and witty comments how do you sift through and decide which is “the best”.

So this is my long-winded and still incomplete answer to the question. Some of the awards are just terribly vague. Best Director. What does that mean? Do any two directors direct the same way? If you have seen any behind the scenes footage of directors at work, or listened to commentaries for films where actors and directors discuss what they did, you have noticed that there are infinite ways that directors direct. Are they involved in everything, right down to the smallest minutiae of every department? Do they delegate to their second in commands and then sit back and wait? Do they care only for the actors and let everything else sort itself out? Do they have their fingers in everything but take credit only for directing? Do they do several, key jobs on each production and always take credit?

I ask these questions thinking of specific directors and then I ask my own question – how closely tied is best director to best picture? What else could you be basing the award on? Gossip? It must be the film, which is why so often the picture that wins also has the director that wins. So in the cases when that isn’t true, what happened? What insight was gleaned that allowed you to know that Ben Affleck really wasn’t as good of a director even though you thought his film was the best?

I am stopping now because for so many categories this is where my brain invariable goes, down this terrible logic spiral that is without end or counter-arguments. People like watching the show, commenting on the clothing and cheering for the winners. I guess that is good. It all feels a bit arbitrary to me and I am not interested in clothes.

Music Mondays #5

Once upon a time I tried, really tried to use Pandora to discover new music. I added numerous artists to my channels and listened for hours at a time hoping I would come across some new, wonderful music. Sadly I found very few new songs I liked and I found that after a few hours of listening Pandora ran out of selections.

Despite the lackluster experience Pandora did clue me into a few bands I did not previously know of. One, The Arctic Monkeys, cropped up on multiple channels. Oddly the songs that were played were very much not to my liking. I am not quite sure how the algorithm went from Beck or The Black Keys to these Brit Pop songs but it did. So after a plethora of thumbs down votes I no longer had to sit through songs I did not like but the band name stuck in my mind.

Last year when driving around aimlessly and flipping, at a near constant pace, through the radio stations I came across a new Arctic Monkey’s song – “Do I Wanna Know?” It was good. Not great but good. Catchy, with a nice beat, not overly British. I like it. Soon after I heard another song from their new album, this one is titled, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” Again, it’s a solid song. It isn’t amazing, but there is certainly something to it that makes me listen whenever I hear it playing. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the lyrics or the straightforward, plaintive tone. The sincerity of the song is very appealing to me and I think if you give it a chance you might find it to your liking as well.

So for this Monday I am sharing two songs from the same band (I figure two good songs is a worthwhile thing to share)-

Question of the Week #5

Question:

What do you think about this whole “golden age of television” thing?

Answer:

I like it. That is, I like that so many people are taking television seriously. I have a hard time with the “golden age” notion for anything. When people today say that about the 1970’s regarding film I find it hard to take them seriously. I suspect that if they were in the same position they currently occupy in the 70’s they would be saying, “Oh, the 30’s, man that was the golden age of film. Anything was finally possible.”

Which is to say most people tend to view such things with a large dose of nostalgia, which is what makes the situation of television refreshing. People are saying that about something that is happening right now. Let me repeat this: people are saying that something happening right now is good. What an absolute rarity. Not – the music industry has gone down in flames and no one knows how to navigate that world any longer. Not – the economy is in shambles due to sub-prime mortgages and somehow this means gas prices are going to trying to compete with those in Europe. No, people are actually praising the state of television. This impresses me.

What is baffling is that it took so long for the people making television to wise up to a few facts. First, television is better suited (over film) to telling certain kinds of stories. No brainer, right? If you need a long gestating story where a slow burn will really pay off, do you do it with 24 episodes or two hours? Second, that people who are investing the amount of time television shows require actually want substance. I’m not criticizing any particular program but this realization that you can tell more complex stories with television is another overdue revelation. Of course you can delve into the motivations and the psyche of characters better if you have more time with them. Third, and lets make it the final point, television is being allowed to take a little time to develop stories. This may feel similar to the first point but the difference lies in how television shows are being made and who is paying for them. Now that there are different stations/companies/providers making this content they are no longer as tied to advertising and having an immediate viewership. At a time when every movie is being called a failure or a success based on their Thursday night box office receipts, it is fantastic that companies like Netflix and Amazon – never mind cable stations, are doing away with the similar measure of success for television. And this all means that shows can take their time to tell their stories, or tell them in different ways.

So what I really think is – great but what took you so long? And, I also suspect that most people making television now still lack the sophistication, confidence and wherewithal to actually commit and tell amazing stories. Even something as revered and lauded as Breaking Bad fell prey to so many of the pitfalls of a show that runs for five seasons. Who is Sklyer, what skills/ambitions does she have and what kind of person is she? It depends on the season and what the writers felt they needed to make her in relation to her husband. I don’t mean to target this show in particular I just think it is a prime example of a good but imperfect television show. If we all continue to take television seriously I think shows like Breaking Bad will continue to improve and ultimately be more fulfilling. It is exciting.

Music Mondays #4

I am not a dance music person. The reason is fairly simple: I don’t dance. That being said occasionally I come across a song that strikes me as being “dance music” that I think makes for good, stationary listening.

Jungle Drum – by Emilana Torrini is one of these songs. I am not sure what she considers her music to be but for me this is an absolute dance song. It is quirky, fun and upbeat. It is impossible to listen to this without tapping your toe or bobbing your head. Often I engage in my only form of dancing, chair dancing, while I listen to this song.

A few years ago it was used in a promotional video for Iceland that is a perfect marriage of music and images. If you did not have the urge to visit Iceland I think you just might after watching this video.

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