I wouldn’t describe myself as a black and white guy, but often in our music debates we are called upon to either love or hate something. Yet sometimes we struggle with taking a side. And it’s not indifference. It’s fence sitting. Tonight I present 2 bands and 2 guys who’ve had me on the fence for too long. Also stay tuned for a Six-pack or Shotgun segment. Thanks to The Professor for his continued guidance and enlightenment.
Full disclosure: For good or ill, this episode of Saturday Night Shut-In was put together under the influence of some serious sinus medication.
I just caught 5 minutes of Grace of My Heart, basically the fictional account of the life of a Carole King-like Brill Building songwriter who comes into her own after a series of failed relationships with goofy, sensitive, creative men. I’m a sucker for this movie. I loved it when it came out, and I easily get sucked into it every time I’m flipping channels and come to a screeching halt. There’s a big fundraiser dinner party at my place tonight, so I had to rip myself away from the TV to get back to work (after this quick post). Anyhow, the whole middle-class ’60s women’s empowerment message is an easy selling point for me, and the movie is loaded with many of my favorite six-pack worthy actors, goofy, sensitive types like John Turturro, Matt Dillon, and Eric Stoltz.
As with another similarly themed movie that I get the sense I alone absolutely love, Peggy Sue Got Married, I don’t expect you to share my love for Grace of My Heart. Laugh at me, if you must. Pull this chink in my exquisite tastes out of your back pocket when you find yourself pinned to the mats by my rock logic. I share this fact with you in hopes of learning what rock-related thing you sense you alone love?
Over the weekend I took my boys out with a neighbor and his son to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. We all saw the first one together when that came out, last year or whenever. That night I left the theater thinking I’d be spared sitting through a sequel, that the movie was so inconsequential that not even the dream makers in Hollywood would think it necessitated sequel. I was wrong. Last night, good father that I try to be, I said, “Sure!” to our friend when he called at the last minute and asked if we wanted to join him and his son for the sequel. Personally, I had my reservations.
My wife was a little bummed that she wouldn’t be able to join us on such short notice. I told her that she probably wasn’t missing anything, that the first one, which she didn’t see, was no more satifsfying than eating a single marshmallow. “Yeah,” she said, “but Robert Downey Jr. is usually good.”
I looked her square in the eye and said with too-often-unchecked disdain, “I forget that you actually like that guy.”
My teenage son jumped to her defense, “He’s good! How can you not like Robert Downey Jr.?”
This got me thinking about Townsman E. Pluribus Gergely‘s Six-Pack or Shotgun theory on how we actually assess acting talent. To summarize, if you don’t have the time to go back and read the original thread, Gergely’s legendary late-night pronouncement on the topic should do:
“There’s no such thing as Acting Ability!” he said in typically definitive fashion, slamming his fist for emphasis. “When we watch any any actor in any movie it comes down to one thing: If that actor showed up unannounced at your back door, would you greet him or her with a six-pack or a shotgun?“
Today, let’s see if we can tackle the near-impossible task of applying this theory to related pairs of polarizing musicians. Sure, we’re loaded for bear when it comes to passionate, informed musical opinions, but let’s see if we can leave musical content out of it and investigate whether there is a deeper truth to our feelings on the following pairs of artists.
Your mission is to choose which artist in each pair gets the six-pack and which gets the shotgun. There’s no in-between, no ties, and especially none of this! The only risk you face in participating is the risk of revealing something deep about yourself.
A final reminder: If at all possible, leave your opinions on the artists’ music out of it. To aid in this I have attempted to kick things off with the selection of a few pairs of artists whose music most Townspeople have equal amounts of musical interest in.
When you’re done assigning the six-pack and the shotgun to each of the following sets of related polarizing artists feel free to add your own pair of related polarizing artists for us to ponder.
I was updating my Netflix queue last night, looking for a classic comedy that my wife and I might like—and that might get me off the hook temporarily for my usual prediliction for adding really dark, negative, cynical films to our queue. Most recently, for instance, I watched Werner Herzog‘s memoir on his old partner in crime, Klaus Kinski: My Best Fiend. It’s a nice, moving memoir of a difficult friendship, if you’re into that kind of thing. (My wife, by the way, who had no interest in watching this documentary with me, walked into the room at one point, during a clip from the opening of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, my favorite Herzog flick. She didn’t know what I was watching, but the nature shots of the Peruvian mountains immediately caught her eye. “Ooh, what’s this movie?” I told her what it was, reminding her which video I was watching. “It looks beautiful. Would I like it?” Usually I’d take the opportunity to stretch the truth and see if I could finally trick her into watching a non-nature documentary [eg, Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, which she has liked] by Herzog, one of his fictional films, which she instinctively knows is the kind of movie I love but would turn her stomach. I couldn’t lie. “This movie is so negative,” I told her, “it makes Apocalypse Now [which, like a woman in one of my favorite an Onion pieces, she has still not seen all the way through!] seem like a romantic comedy.” Later she walked in during a scene from Herzog’s Nosferatu and did a 180 as soon as she saw Kinski’s hideous creature.)
Anyhow, while scanning the Netflix suggestions under Classic Comedy a movie title caught my eye. Then I saw Groucho Marx‘s face on the cover. I don’t know, Groucho Marx just gives me a bad vibe. It’s much like the vibe I get every time I’m confronted with Randy Newman‘s face. I know they’re both respected artists in their field. I even appreciate their work a bit once I get by the instinct to do a 180 as soon as I’m confronted with their visage. What respected film and music artist (one of each) just give you a bad vibe?
I believe yesterday was some slightly hyped release date of the Blu-Ray edition of the Brian De Palma-directed, Oliver Stone-written, Al Pacino-starring 1983 movie Scarface. What do you think of that flick? I couldn’t stand it when it came out. I walked out of the theater two thirds of the way through. I can’t stand it any time I’ve tried to watch it since. For me it marked the point of no return for Pacino, when he amped up his performance to cartoonish levels and never came back to the remotely human, slow-burning level that he showed he was capable of nailing in the first two Godfather films.
Scarface confirmed my belief that De Palma was, for the most part, a hack. I don’t think I knew who Stone was at the time, but years later it was clear where he was headed in his cry-for-help of a Hollywood career. I also remember, while fidgeting through the movie in the theater, being disappointed that De Palma couldn’t at least have gotten the young actress who played Pacino’s girlfriend, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, to succumb to one of his patented exploitive, kinky voyeuristic scenes. Jeez!
Years later I so dislike Scarface that I honestly prefer De Palma’s piss-poor flipside of his own film, Carlito’s Way. At least that movie tells its overblown morality tale from the point of view of a character as nerdy and pathetic in their latent quests for danger as I imagine De Palma and Stone to be. There’s a sense of atonement, too, in Pacino’s willingness to play the relatively straight man to Sean Penn‘s suddenly unbridled, geeky Jewish lawyer. I bet Pacino took some secret joy in watching the proud Penn stoop to the director’s heartfelt fantasies. I bet the director took some secret joy in knowing that he could get his new, unknown actress to take her top off for his edification. I know I took great joy in seeing this crew stew in the slop De Palma and Pacino created 10 years earlier.
Today, critics are willing to make “50,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong” excuses for the brilliance of Scarface. Yeah, yeah, like so many other ’80s pop-trash vehicles that require critics to earn their pay by reviewing their shiny, new Blu-Ray releases, the movie anticipates the fall of a cinematic era and the rise of popular expressions of grand notions of the American spirit as framed by the Reagan Era. Zzzzzzzzzzzz..
So all this got me thinking: What is the Scarface of rock ‘n roll, that is, the populist trash album that music lovers are strongly divided over that marked the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age and that served as a vehicle for extreme fantasies of powerless, ordinary folk?
A picture of Russell Brand, with his self-conscious gaze, sculpted eyebrows, and 5 o’clock shadow jumped out from the pages of Entertainment Weekly yesterday, and I quickly checked to make sure my shotgun was in reach. Although after seeing him a few times on talk shows I’ve come to realize that Brand can be a slightly amusing storyteller, in a poor man’s Peter O’Toole way, that guy really annoys me. Believe me, I know nothing about him (he may be a fantastic human being and all that), but every time I look at him he strikes me as a world-class wannabe! Specifically, he’s a wannabe of a sort that immediately turns me off: the Rock ‘n Roll Comedian.
I can’t put my finger on when, exactly, the notion of the Rock ‘n Roll Comedian was hatched. In the ’70s there were plenty of comedians who were tuned into rock ‘n roll culture: the hippified George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Cheech and Chong… Although they often appeared on the same stage with rock ‘n rollers, partied just as hard, and pushed the envelope of “rock ‘n roll values,” they never seemed to think of themselves as rock ‘n rollers. They ran paralell the Beat/hippie strain of rock ‘n roll, but they didn’t strike me as trying to ride on the coattails of a rudimentary understanding of rock ‘n roll.
Someone probably beat this guy to the punch, but Sam Kinison is the first Rock ‘n Roll Comedian who comes to mind for me, the first comedian who directly promoted himself as a rock ‘n roller. He was occasionally funny, but if rock ‘n roll was about nothing more than outrageous behavior, wild partying, and elaborate headwraps to keep a few dozen strands of long hair in place, then count me out! Along with Kinison the ’80s gave us another hair-farmer comic of moderate talent and poor taste in music, Howard Stern. Whatever…
Maybe more troubling yet was Denis Leary, another comedian of some talent who tried too hard to come off as a rock ‘n roller. What was really so rock ‘n roll about that guy? Did he even inhale his prop cigarette? I don’t think so.
Once that run of ’80s Rock ‘n Roll Comedians got rolling any mildly funnyman was free to make his rock ‘n roll dreams come true: Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, my man Conan… These three axe-wielding comedians, however, bug me much less than Russell Brand, because they’re not equating their work as a comedian with that of a rock ‘n roller. They’re not reducing rock ‘n roll to the human bong resin that is Tommy Lee. Brand does self-consciously play with the notion of being a Rock Star; is he also vying to be an-honest-to-goodness Rock ‘n Roll Comedian? I’m not sure, because I’m turned off by him as soon as I see his preening face.
Beyond Brand, specifically, I don’t know if a comedian can equate him- or herself with rock ‘n roll without making me feel ashamed for loving rock ‘n roll. Comedians can’t really really be cool, can they, and rock ‘n roll depends heavily on being cool.
Anyhow, now you know where I fall on the six-pack or shotgun spectrum of the notion of the Rock ‘n Roll Comedian. Am I missing a Rock ‘n Roll Comedian who deserves the six-pack? For those of you who are unfamiliar with the six-pack or shotgun question, read on.Continue reading »