Jul 132010

STOP, in the name of love!

Last night I watched most of Taxi Driver for – what – the 25th time? [Make that 26th time – the cable station that was playing it played it again, back to back, so I had to watch it again to see what I’d missed earlier, and then I wanted to see the rest of the movie in sequence.] No director’s movies resonate with me more deeply and consistently than Martin Scorsese‘s classic films, from this 1976 breakthrough through Raging Bull (maybe my favorite move of all time), The King of Comedy and After Hours, and ending with Goodfellas. Since then he’s been a hollow run of the movie director’s equivalent of the Stones’ “best album since Exile.” Even Kundun was a letdown.

I blame Scorsese’s decline on his late-midlife crisis of chasing all the blonde cheerleader types who’d never looked his way when he was a young, awkward nobody, going through his own set of anxieties. It was one thing to work out his neuroses by having Travis go off the deep end in response to rejection by Cybill Shepherd’s character, but it’s something else to cast Cameron Diaz and ask her to speak in an Irish brogue for some 19th century Riverdance. But this is not exactly what I’m here to discuss.

I bet you’re all familiar with the concept of what I call the screeching halt movie, one of those movies that, when flipping channels, brings your remote control to a screeching halt and keeps you locked into the film from whatever point you entered until its conclusion. (You’re probably thinking of one of your screeching half faves as you read this – feel free to share it.) I’m not sure that the screeching half effect is as applicable in our music-listening practices, especially in this age of being tapped into our personal iTunes playlists and other tailored digital programs that have allowed us to fulfill David Bowie’s dream of being the DJ. However, when we actually spent more time in our cars, slaves to the limited options of “terrestrial radio,” we may have been more familiar with the notion of coming to a screeching halt while flipping through the radio dial. (I suspect most of our readers are old enough to have actually turned a radio dial.) Do we still think of songs in this screeching-halt sense, where we drop everything and make sure to listen closely until the song concludes?

Sep 082009

Flipping channels one night last week I came to a screeching halt on the skateboarding documentary Dogtown and the Z-Boys. When this movie came out in the theaters I initially turned my nose up at it. I was never a skateboarder or had any interest in related “extreme sports.” That stuff always ran counter to my interest in team sports. My younger brother, however, has always run with that X crowd, and I do have a lot of interest in him and try to get my head around what he cares about. He loved the movie, so a few years ago I finally broke down and rented it. It was great! From now on, I’ll stop flipping channels whenever I come across that documentary, and I’ve since watched a few other documentaries on skateboarding and surfing.

My oldest son thinks I’m trying to relive my youth, but I tell him I’m not. I’m really trying to better understand my younger brother and prepare for the road I can see my younger son taking. Watching Dogtown and the Z-Boys again the other night I was struck by the marriage of music and extreme sports. What other sports have ever been so closely related to a form of music? I guess some extreme sports lean more toward metal than punk, but I’m not yet sure when one X Games competition requires the cueing of speed metal rather than hardcore punk. I know nothing about NASCAR. Are NASCAR docs fueled by some special country or Southern Rock mix of music? Is there any other equivalent to skate punk? Wait, what am I saying – skate punk is the direct descendant of surf rock, both in terms of the sport and, to some extent, the music.

OK, are there any equivalents to skate punk and surf rock? And whatever particular X Games sport is closely identified with speed metal…

Getting my head around the SoCal skater/surfer scenes has recently had the added effect of helping me tune into the music related to those scenes. I can hear how the music relates to the motion of the sport. I wonder if there’s a rhythm to the sport I love most, baseball.

Feb 052008

I spell M-…

Last night I was flipping channels, and I came to a screeching halt at the 1978 Paul Mazursky-directed period piece, An Unmarried Woman. Man, I hadn’t seen that movie since it was still considered mainstream cutting edge. Alan Bates’ hair and beard were a show unto themselves, not to mention Jill Clayburgh’s newly liberated nipples!

Anyhow, I got to thinking how representative that movie was of the ’70s age of self-discovery and how so much popular music of that time was geared toward themes of post-hippie culture, middle-class self-discovery by women and men in their late-20s and early-30s: Carol King, James Taylor, all that Psychic Oblivion stuff… What a clear period in terms of cultural themes. My childhood was smack dab in the middle of that period, with my newly divorced Mom “finding” herself a few years later than she would have liked. Better late than never…

Then I got to thinking about other periods of music and popular culture, during which clear themes emerged. I lived through some of these periods, as I’m living through whatever period we’re in today, but I can’t put my finger on what our present cultural theme is, circa 2008. The themes an artist like Beck represented in the ’90s are appearing in the rearview mirror, aren’t they? U2 and The Boss already healed the nation post-9/11. Neil Young‘s attempts at establishing themes during the Dubya era were hampered by lousy music, and now Bush is about to appear in the rearview mirror along with Beck and Alanis Morissette. We may be post-ironic, but’s not like we’re living in the Age of New Sincerity quite yet. So my question is, What music today represents – for you – a theme you think is particularly relevant to our time?


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