Friday, November 30, 2007

Deceased Artiste: Fred Chichin of Les Rita Mitsouko

I’m pretty sure the American music press is gonna fuck up and completely ignore the passing of the wonderfully talented Fred Chichin, half of the great French pop-rock duo Les Rita Mitsouko (the other half being the lovely and talented Catherine Ringer). Fred died at 53 of cancer, a sad death, since his duo was a kick-ass musical act whose first few albums were golden, and who continued to create memorable, hook-laden tunes until earlier this year.

As is always the case with musical acts, most of their best work is available on YouTube, but I’ll just note that they hit it big with the super-memorable and goddamn bouncy song “Marcia Baila” in 1985, and went on to become major French music stars, she for her great vocals and sexy style, he for his musicianship… and sleazy moustache. They attempted crossover performances, but wisely never did a complete sell-out LP: two albums were produced by “Main Man” Tony Visconti, they performed songs with Sparks on their third album, their newest album has Catherine dueting with the lead singer of System of a Down, and the pair continued to perform tunes sung in English as well as Français. I thought it interesting that they received the same treatment in Godard’s Soigne Ta Droite (Keep up your right) that the Stones had gotten in One Plus One/Sympathy for the Devil. They certainly deserved the dissection, as their music was wonderfully crafted by Fred and the albums are imminently relistenable.

Get hooked into “Marcia Baila”:

Pure pop for now people from Les Rita:

I get addicted with a few notes:

Dance music with a brain:

And I would be remarkably remiss if I didn’t close out with the best last line Les Rita ever came up with
“Les histoires d’amour finissent mal… en general”
(Love stories end badly… in general)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hot Link: Vintage concerts online, all for free

The Wolfgang's Vault site is a collection of free vintage concerts from the 1960s through the 1980s, with some stray recent items. The collection began as the archive of recordings (soundboard recordings, the stuff of pure bootleg wet dreams) from the collection of legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. The site has now made a deal with the folks who produced the classic radio concert series "The King Biscuit Flower Hour" and some other group that was holding performances by some major country artists. So what you end up having, for the time being (I'm wondering how long this can continue at its current diluted strength) is a site that offers free concerts from psychedelia to punk. I have partaken of several of the recordings in the vault (all available for free — i.d. and password required, but they're gratis — as steaming audio; downloads are available, I don't know how that was worked out...). Immediate faves are of course Martin Mull (from his "Fabulous Furniture" period), the Ramones at the Palladium, Van Morrison at the Bottom Line, Laura Nyro (christ, Laura Nyro!), X from a Brooklyn show, and the singer-songwriter gents when they were newer and less prone to professionalism: Randy Newman in 1972 persists in being a wise-ass because his audience isn't seemingly familiar with what he does, and Warren Zevon is 1978 is audibly drunk and playing off-key. Hey man, that was rock 'n' roll, and more importantly live rock 'n' roll. If you want polished, go check out that arena crap.

Well worth your time:
Wolfgang's Vault

"Unabideables": the MTA and winter

“At least he made the trains run on time.”

The number one joke about Mussolini is the above. Why has it stuck with people for so long? Well, if you live in New York City you readily understand why one can make a joke about being able to withstand a fascist administration (oops, I mean openly fascist) if you could just get to where you wanted to go in a smooth fashion. Doesn’t matter how good the book you’re carrying, how superb the music in your portable “device,” how many things you’ve got on your mind, and need time to process — when you’re at a local station and the train you’re waiting for chooses to go express and fly by in the darkness with horn blaring, or the wretched pathetic little tyrant that drives the bus decides to bypass you in the depths of winter (or summer), you might be brought in mind of a younger Benito, and figure that if you ever got control of a country, you’d damned well get the public transportation to actually follow the fucking schedule, any fucking schedule.

In winter, one wants, needs, would love to simply go home.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Norman Mailer on his characters and their penises

Just had to upload one more brilliant little bit from Pennebaker and Hegedus' 1979 Town Bloody Hall (shot in 1971). Here Norman answers a question about the protagonists in his novels that give nicknames to their penises. Germaine Greer — who in more recent years did a stint on Celebrity Big Brother over in England — has something to say about this phenomenon.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Deuce stars in "Times Square" (1980)

Showed this on the recent Jacob Brackman interview episode, as he scripted this picture, which was intended as Robert Stigwood's "punk" picture. The scene is amazing, as it shows what the South side of 42nd St. looked like in 1980 from one corner to the other. A great time capsule.

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Jacob Brackman on Terrence Malick

From the Funhouse interview.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A holiday tradition: "Alice's Restaurant"

The holidays are a drag all ’round, but there are certain seasonal rituals I heartily endorse, most of them concerning (take a big heaping guess) culture and entertainment. Halloween may be my favorite holiday and Christmas the one that gets the lion’s share of attention, but Thanksgiving has its own pleasant traditions, the foremost mainstream one being, of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast (if you thought I was going to mention football, ya don’t know me very well). One of the finest musical traditions started back in 1967 when Arlo Guthrie delivered unto us his rambling, shambling, hooky-as-hell narrative entitled “Alice’s Restaurant.” If you get through this holiday without singin’ a bar’a “Alice’s Restaurant” (the next time it comes up here on the guitar), or at least humming the tune, you have had an inferior Turkey Day.

In this era of all music being obtained somehow for free, it’s comforting to know that one can hear Arlo’s once and future bit of anti-war spoken-word brilliance gratis on the Net. It’s been announced that the site below will be streaming the song all day long on Thanksgiving. Just consider the fact that friend Arlo was only 20 when he wrote this ditty, and was already a pretty decent tunesmith (and, I believe, damned good comedian) at that tender age. I have yet to see him perform it in concert (the times I’ve seen him he’s one of several performers and, well, you just can’t dig out that titanic saga in the company of other performers), but it has been a tradition for me to take a listen, in some fashion, to his “Massacree” every Thanksgiving.

Click here for the place where Alice can be heard on Thanksgiving this year
And in case, you want to find out something about the real Alice, who’s still around and now is an artist-illustrator.

And speaking of the esteemed Guthrie clan, I was very privileged to serve as proofreader for the extremely classy-lookin’ book that is contained within the deluxe release of the CD called The Live Wire. The CD is a rare-as-hell recording of Woody Guthrie performing live at a community center in Newark, NJ back in 1949. It turns out that, right at the dawn of the blacklist era, Woody would take speaking/singing engagements with his wife Marjorie, who would serve as his “interviewer” in between songs. The performance was recorded for posterity by a local NJ ice cream salesman who caught it using a pre-tape form of consumer wire-recording that proves again (see post below) that analog technology ain’t very pretty in terms of its results, but certainly lasts a long, long, long time….

The Live Wire is a fascinating document of the legendary Woody doing what should be a “packaged” show, but breaking out of the constraints of format and structure that Marjorie attempted to impose on the evening. The result is a rather rambling, shambling, but infinitely entertaining (like father, like son) bit of history that includes some amusing monologues by Woody and absolutely gorgeous pieces of songwriting, from Dustbowl ballads to news- and history-generated songs that haven’t aged a bit in the many decades since they were written (“1913 Massacre,” “Goodbye Centralia”). The closer is a beauty, “Jesus Christ,” which alters the old Jesse James ballad to fit the man from Nazareth. My knowledge of Woody before working on this project was confined to the many covers of his work by 1960s folkies I adore and the tunes resurrected by his old travelin’ buddy Pete Seeger (plus the Billy Bragg/Wilco collaborations). It’s quite another matter hearing the man himself, interacting with his wife in a free-wheeling (yes, Bob copped a busload of the attitude here) and sometimes rambunctious Q&A session — I particularly like his asking Marjorie, who has noted she thinks the acoustic guitar is “too loud” for the audience, “do you want me to turn it down?”

As a “consumer guide” service, I note the CD is available exclusively at the Woody Guthrie Foundation website, which has all kinds of interesting info about the man whose “machine” killed fascists.

A Thanksgiving present for NYCers: no subway fare-hike!

New Yorkers got some very welcome news this morning, a nice Thanksgiving present, with the announcement by Gov. Spitzer that the MTA does not need to raise its fare. Of course, those who ride the fucking things on a daily basis know that they never needed to raise it, the MTA just figures it should keep its riders under heel and at-attention by sporadically raising the fare, even though it literally BLEEDS money when analyzed. There was the wonderful case a few years back when it was revealed that they were keeping two sets of books and had been for some time, but still the fare-hike they had decided on then went through — their excuse was that the turnstiles had already been changed, no going back on this plan…. They’re crooks, the damned trains never run on anything resembling a regular schedule, and most hardened subway commuters spend the better part of their lives waiting on platforms for the eventual overstuffed train that will cruise into the station (or bypass it, if they feel like it).

Conservative critics of the governor (who I am not a fan of, but certainly not opposed to) have said this is Spitzer’s attempt to change his image after the complete failure of his drivers-licenses-for-illegal-immigrants plan; the fact that that MTA HAD enough dough in the first place and never needed the fare-hike is of course ignored (shades of the Dan Rather fiasco where the content of the memos under consideration, saying that Bush evaded military service as best he could, was ignored in favor of the game concerning whether said memos were 100% legit in and of themselves. The neocon agenda is based pretty entirely on the “don’t watch that… watch this!” philosophy. Screw ’em. I don’t think a penny more needs to come from NYC commuters to subsidize a system that is run horribly, answers to no one, and which receives absolute no slaps on the wrist from the billionaire with the HORRID voice who occupies the Mayor’s office.

Now back to our regularly scheduled entertainment….

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Deceased Artiste" Norman Mailer

He was one of a fuckin’ kind, Mailer was. In certain ways a throwback to the Hemingway macho writers of the earlier part of the twentieth century, in others a vitally connected artist who seemed to place himself at the forefront of opinion and behavior in the 1960s and ’70s, he is probably one of the last great aged enfant terribles. He seemed to really hit his prime as a writer-provocateur in his late 40s, and occupied a place in both American letters and American show biz that no one else ever has, with the exception of Truman Capote, who was most likely his polar opposite (and someone he always publicly envied, even decades after Capote’s death, for having truly “understood” how to manipulate and captivate the media). He was a bold guy, a genius who was modest about nothing and possessed the craziness that usually is part and parcel of creative genius. His mind was razor-sharp, but what will ultimately be remembered, for at least the next few decades, was his public behavior. After some time passes, though, his books will the final testament — which is exactly what a man capable of the lean beauty of The Executioner’s Song and the awful excess of Ancient Evenings would’ve wanted.

My own experiences with the gent extend back to hearing about his “acting up” on late-night talk shows, my dad telling me about Mailer verbally sparring with Gore Vidal on the Cavett show (their first and most famous duel being one of the most kinetic hours of television ever, with barely a move being made). When I became fascinated by the Sixties (in the late Seventies, I was a late starter, but also pretty young), I had to read Mailer’s works about the period, as he was a key chronicler. I later read the chapters from The Executioner’s Song that were excerpted in Playboy, the first Playboys I ever got (yes, I was readin’ the articles in between checking out the pics). I still look upon that as one of the best books I’ve ever read, a perfectly spare and controlled work about American crime and celebrity (and, yes, the book is Mailer’s expansion on all the stylistic “leg work” done by Capote in In Cold Blood). His later books were a mixed bag — as noted some were severely rough in their singular obsession and dullness (the Egyptian doorstop), and others had the makings of perfect American sagas that were started but not followed through (Harlot’s Ghost has moments of genius but needed severe paring down — and the never-written second half!).

My one fanboy moment with Mailer was when I spoke to him as he emerged from the subway at Third Avenue and 53rd St. a year or so after his amazing movie Tough Guys Don’t Dance had appeared. I mentioned I loved Tough Guys… and he immediately said “the book or the movie?” I quickly responded, “Both” and he told me how the movie had just won some kind of film festival award for Best Independent Film or something. I shook his hand and told him how I also loved The Executioner’s Song or somesuch, thought he was a great writer, and that was it. I saw him at a few readings and public appearances before and after that, but never again had that 30-second “boy, it felt like I actually met him just now” experience you get at a signing (move along, fella, there’s another guy behind you).

So what, you ask, did I decide to post to honor Mailer? I intend on adding further uploads, but for the moment decided to do a mini-“Deceased Ariste” tribute to the big Norm. First up is a scene from an appearance he made on The Merv Griffin Show right after the March on the Pentagon, as shown on a barroom television set in the documentary Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up? (I nabbed it off a French television docu though). Then comes a slice of Norman in the insanely kinetic Town Bloody Hall(shot 1971, edited 1979), D.A. Pennebaker’s filming of Mailer’s public debate with feminists after the appearance of his article “The Prisoner of Sex” (as slim and oddly-conceived as his book on the moon landing, this bit of prose got him in hot water with women’s libbers, and he responded as he always did, with brash and bizarre statements, expressed with perfect grammar and syntax, in a public forum). Next we’re on to his mind-bogglingly over-the-top melodrama/thriller Tough Guys Don’t Dance, about which I’ve written before (the piece can be found here). I love that movie to pieces. I decided to close out with Mailer reflecting on 9/11 shortly at a public appearance that was broadcast on C-SPAN. More clips will come on this titanic figure of the late twentieth century. You won’t see his like comin’ along anytime soon….

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A song you'll never forget: "punk" anthem from "Times Square"

I plan on uploading another clip from my interview with Jacob Brackman, but had to get this weird item uploaded, a scene from Times Squarethe film he scripted which wound being other than what was intended (both Brackman and director Allan Moyle wound up being removed from the pic before it was released, and it is a mess). This song is nearly impossible to get outta your head, perhaps because it's so oddly un-p.c., pretty dumb, and so simple you can hum it. That should make it a punk anthem along the lines of any Ramones tune, but instead it's just... sorta crazy. Enjoy.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Media Funhouse interview with Jacob Brackman

A segment from last week’s episode, part one of my interview with screenwriter/journalist/lyricist Jacob Brackman. He wrote one of my all-time favorite films from the perfect “maverick” period of early 1970s American cinema, The King of Marvin Gardens, with Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern. Here we talk about the film.

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No writer's strike in the Funhouse: last clips from Johnny's 10th

For media-vultures who devour present-day items while still mainlining nostalgia, a disruption in the entertainment biz means more time can be spent sifting through the joys of yesteryear. And so I finish off my trib to Johnny’s 10th anniversary (in 1972)with these two clips:

Don Rickles making his obligatory appearance and shakin’ things up (although being extremely reverent to Benny, as they all were). I recently saw the Rickles docu by John Landis, which will play on HBO at the end of the year. Interesting portrait of a man and a town (it’s all about Vegas), and it does have some primo clips of the pitbull of comedy, but here's a somewhat laidback bit of "panel":

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And a priceless appearance by Jerry, in which he is basically insulted by nearly everyone on the panel, except Joey Bishop. The sound is very uneven on this, but it’s definitely worth watching, for both those who love and those who hate the Jer:

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

“Unabideables”: analog lasts and lasts, digital is... extremely pretty

Now, let me get this straight, the analog media that were supposed to have extremely short life spans, audio and video tape cassettes, can still be played years, decades (!), after their supposed expiration date. Who remembers the hue and cry that “video tapes will only be watchable for 15 years!” I’ve got 30 year old ones that ain’t exactly pretty, but can still be viewed and/or copied. These media are sneered at by those who crave the utter perfection inherent in digital media, yet, um… they still work.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing the Funhouse access show using digital media for less than two years now, and have already encountered problems with both of the media favored for us consumers to archive our acquisitions and, more importantly, our creations. When rerunning a show just a few months back, a show that was recorded (oops… “exported”) onto a mini-dv tape just 18 months earlier, I found that the soundtrack now had dropout problems, snaps, crackles, and pops. I was informed by a very wise tech pal that this might indeed have been because I was daring to attempt a viewing/usage of this material during the summer months (which are humid beyond belief in NYC these days), and that the tape might indeed be playable in colder weather. Outside of a climate-controlled locker, it seems that these tapes produce an image that is pretty as a picture, but vastly inferior to the durable-as-hell clunky old cassettes of yore.

And then you have DVD-r, a medium that is cheap if you buy in bulk, and seems, again, to provide picture quality that is startlingly beautiful and crisp. Well, the silver discs are crap, as we all knew from get-go when we were forced to abandon those big, unwieldy vinyl discs for the silver suckers that were emblems of the two factors that seem to drive all of our consumer culture these days: they were miniature, they were portable! And they had snob appeal. You think you’ve liked your favorite album on vinyl? Well, hey, chump, here it is digitally remastered, and it sounds crisp and beautiful, like never before. Then, the worm turns: how to get the idjits to rebuy the same thing again? Why, another remaster, this time back to the mono/vinyl sound that really has a greater immediacy and is, well, better.

Back to DVD-r: I’ve been archiving the show on these discs for, again, about two years, and now I’ve been informed by my webmaster that I was quite unwise to be labeling them with Sharpie pens, as the solvent in the ink can leak into the disc and cut short its already pretty crappy few years of activity. This can be overcome with magic markers that are specifically for CD/DVD labeling, adhesive labels, and the labeling software that requires you to buy slightly higher-priced discs. Et Voila! We hit up on the ultimate curse of digital — unlike analog, it is a capitalist’s wet dream, as it requires buying and buying and buying, and then (secret here) rebuying and rebuying and rebuying. The effect, visual and aural, is so much more impressive, but the time required to re-acquire and re-dub material, plus the money required to spendspendspend to both buy the media and also acquire the updates of/replacements for the media (instead of the old model, which found you repairing what you bought because it was durable and worth preserving), means that the carnies/rubes equation that does indeed rule our culture is in full effect. We consent to rube status every time we eagerly respond to updated technology that has, oh… a few strings attached.

Thus, I delight in the technological innovations that enable free sharing of visual and audio material. YouTube, the many audio blogs, bit torrent, all of these phenomena are the one way in which the vicious circle of high-tech innovation is actually beaten, for a short time at least. Because, as any good fanboy knows, the way in which this material is kept alive is, to borrow an expression dear to the ’90s MST3K crowd, “circulating the tapes”….

Friday, November 2, 2007

Berlin Alexanderplatz: the Criterion version has arrived

A few months ago on this blog, I linked to the following scene I had uplaoded, the most difficult scene to watch this masterpiece, the "Mount Everest of modern cinema," as Sarris called it. The scene is difficult not because of its content, but because it was so damned dark. There was a small controversy surrounding the restoration by cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, which I went in this previous blog entry.

Here is the scene, before restoration.

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And now (drum roll), here is the scene as restored for the Criterion release. It still is dark (Fassbinder wanted that way), but is now a bit more distinct, and the image has been cleaned up). The sound is also incredibly improved:

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I'll be posting more about this major release as I prepare to swim through the contents of the box, and also now finally take steps to air the interview I did with Juliane Lorenz earlier in the year about the restoration of this landmark work by Fassbinder.

Dean Martin, Jack Benny salute Johnny's 10th

Like this blog, the Funhouse cable-access show covers a broad range of topics (high art, low trash, blah blah), and I've noticed that the viewers who prefer one kind of entertainment — be it foreign films, vintage television, old comedians, extremely sleazy exploitation — would prefer that I stick to that topic exclusively. I think certain of these groups are so vocal (hey, I get a few e-mails, more than three, and I've got me a mandate, folks) is because the material in question just isn't represented anywhere, or if it is, it's available exclusively on DVD in a very limited capacity. As the saying goes, nostalgia ain't what it used to be, so I'm happy to provide material here that I was too young to stay up and see, but that I was lucky enough to find on VHS.

First a little Dino saying opening up the Anniversary party:

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And then John's favorite comedian, a guy who not only influenced many other comics, but who was the best possible audience/cheerleader for them, Jack Benny:

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