Friday, July 30, 2010

July 31

One of the trickiest things to achieve in the music business is a musical identity. It's twice the challenge for a DJ, who plys his trade by, essentially, repurposing other people's sounds. Norman Cook managed that trick, although it certainly took a while - and a lot of aliases.
Born in Brighton, UK, he was putting together block parties in his teens when he helped a friend out of a pinch, replacing the bassist for his friend's band on the eve of their national tour. That's how he became the bassist for the Housemartins.

The Housemartins sounded a lot like the Smiths, but less angsty. That was good enough to get them on the charts a few times before they called it a day in 1988.

After the Housemartins, he returned to the turntables. By 1989, Norman Cook had a top 30 hit, "Blame it on the Bassline." The guest rapper on the track, MC Wildski, joined Cook's next band, Beats International; their number 1 track, "Dub Be Good to Me", was a hit mashup before there was a mashup trend. In 1994, Freak Power was Cook's foray into acid jazz. In 1995, he whipped up a house album under the name "Pizzaman".

All these projects led him to a sound that he began releasing under the name Fatboy Slim. In 1997, he had enough Fatboy Slim songs for a proper album, Better Living Through Chemistry. Fatboy Slim is his most successful alias; see how many of these songs you recognize:

In 2009, he released "I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat," under the name of Brighton Port Authority - essentially, a Fat Boy Slim duets album. Each of the album's tracks features different collaborator, such as Dizzee Rascal, DJ Danger Mouse, and Iggy Pop.

This video features the "Hitchcock cameo moment" that Cook normally fits into every Fat Boy Slim video.

For his latest album, he delivered Fat Boy Slim's first concept album: 'Here Lies Love', featuring David Byrne, tells the story of former Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos and her personal assistant. Meanwhile, Fatboy Slim the deejay continues to play for arena-level crowds across the globe...

July 30

Sonu Nigam is the answer to a long-standing question of mine: where do the songs in Bollywood films come from? Nigam is what's known in Bollywood circles as a playback artist, the singer of a movie's song that the actor lip-syncs for the film. Contrary to the experience in Western entertainment, it's expected and respected. Here's an example from one of my favorite Bollywood films:

The scene is from "Om Shanti Om", one of my favorite Bollywood films. And though I had figured out it wasn't movie star Shah Rukh Khan singing (else, I'd have read about his magnificent music career, instead of just his magnificent movie career) I didn't know who in the credits sang the songs. Now I know: it can be a different singer for each song.
Sonu Nigam is a second-generation singer, whose star rose after he began appearing on a popular music talent show in his 20's. He's worked extremely hard to reach his level of popularity in India; he's released albums in over a dozen languages (because India's that big, and I'm still wrapping my head around this.)
Here's the real Sonu Nigam, in a music video for one of his songs:

He's trying to launch his own film career (no idea if he sings all the songs in his films) but he's more recognized for his musical talent.

I'm used to Hollywood standards, taking for granted that the actors singing onscreen are generating their own musical voices (Glee, Moulin Rouge, Across the Universe) even if I know they're not generating the songs on-set. The first Western equivalent that comes to mind is Turturro's "Romance and Cigarettes," and the effect was jarring, too obvious (one of many problems with that film.) I've also seen it work (John Waters' "Crybaby" comes to mind.) It's one more string to the illusion, and it can still achieve the desired effect; one character unleashing the song in their heart for the world to hear...)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29

It's time to wish 'Hyvää syntymäpäivää!' to Finnish cellist Paavo Lötjönen. A Sibelius University graduate, he first picked up the cello at 7 years old. And he might have ended up a cello teacher or symphony member, except for a band he and his friends started in college, called Apocalyptica.
Their first album, "Plays Metallica by Four Cellos", is exactly what it says it is. It's wonderful.

Their second album set the tone of the band's musical evolution: they delivered some more Metallica covers, along with some songs from other metal stalwarts, and four original compositions, allowing the four cellists to exhibit individual identities.
Paavo, for example, tends to provide the backbeat and deeper refrains.

By the way, Paavo's the short haired one, and the member with the most umlaats in his name (and therefore, the most metal one...)

It doesn't seem likely that a band would achieve any longetivety by playing metal music with classical instruments. Heck, starting a band with four people playing the same instrument seems ridiculous enough. But Apocalyptica's a great example of how to build a band right: start with playing your versions of your favorite songs, until they're your best versions, then write songs that show off your best talents - and just rock. Apocalyptica's evolved since their humble beginnings: they became three cellists and a drummer in 2003. They also began collaborating with accomplished vocalists and guitarists from around the world.

That's "I'm Not Jesus", featuring Slipknot's Corey Taylor; it was the lead-off single
of 2007's "Worlds Collide" album, their most successful album to date. Personally, I like the songs as songs, but think the collaboration songs are so traditionally structured that the cellists have to assume traditional rock arrangements (cello as rhythm guitar, as lead, as bass); fine for the radio audience, but not what I listen to Apocalyptica for.

I'm going to finish this post with what I consider Apocalyptica at their best. This track's called "Farewell," from their self-titled fifth album; Paavo said in an interview that the band self-titled it because they felt the album best represented Apocalyptica. This video, BTW, is a fanvid, using clips from the Kurt Wimmer film "Equilibrium":

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 28

Today's the birthday of Jon Arbuckle, the owner of the world's most sarcastic cat, Garfield. (Jon happens to share the same birthdate as his creator, cartoonist Jim Davis.) Garfield has now been around for over 30 years, and I'd have to say it's the most influencial comic strip of my generation.
You might like Calvin and Hobbes or the Far Side better, but where are they now? Where are their knockoffs and spinoffs? Where are their cartoons and CGI movies, their mugs and plush toys and fruit snacks? If you have a Meijer near you, you can get Garfield spaghetti rings. Take that, Dilbert!

32 years is a long time to play second banana to an overweight cat, but he continues to grin and bear it. And he's been rewarded for his patience in the comic strip; this year, the perennial bachelor finally has a steady romantic relationship with Dr Liz, the veterinarian.
The accusations about Garfield the comic strip spinning its wheels will persist until the strip's end; I believe, at that point, Garfield's artistic and philosophical merit will be re-evaluated. And it will all hinge on Jon's journey.

(Fun fact: Garfield creator Jim Davis is the uncle of Jonathan Davis, lead singer of Korn! Ginchy!)

A few years ago, some Garfield readers began digitally extracting Garfield the cat out of his own comic strip. "Arbuckle: Garfield through Jon's eyes" is a webcomic where the thoughts balloons are removed from the strips, giving a glimpse of what Jon actually sees and hears in his world. Even more popular has been "Garfield Minus Garfield", where the comic strip becomes Jon soliloquizing, ranting to no one. Efforts like these hint at the madness hidden within the comedy and aphorisms.
Here's what one of those beloved Garfield TV specials look like with the "without" treatment:

Happy Birthday, Jon. You deserve a fruit snack of your own...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27

Here's a birthday wish to Bobbie Gentry, who may be one of the most mysterious entries that I'll write about in this blog. Let me employ a contemporary reference: she's the Lauryn Hill of country music.
First, let's listen to the song that defined her career: the Southern Gothic tune "Ode to Billy Joe".

The mystery of what happened on the Tallahassee Bridge was a phenomenon in 1967; it was #1 on the Pop chart, a top 10 hit on the Adult and R&B charts (but not country!) The album knocked 'Sgt Pepper' off the top spot. The song managed 8 Grammy nominations, of which Bobbie won 3 - including Best New Artist. (If you pay attention to the Grammys, you might know where this is going...)
Her second album, "The Delta Sweete" was a semi-autobiographical concept album, continuing her swampwater songbird sound. It didn't sell as well as the other 3 albums she put out in 1968, mostly covers and duets.

After "Billy Joe", her next composition that achieved some resonance was "Fancy"; the song and album were released in 1970.

The song's become a Reba McEntire standard, and, in its way, a feminist anthem. For Bobbie Gentry, it was her last Grammy nomination, her last hit single.
The album "Fancy" was one of three Bobbie Gentry albums released in 1970. In all, she had recorded nine albums in four years.

The 70's were her cashing in period. There would be no more new songs. She toured Europe, then managed a big payday for a Vegas revue, where she had complete creative control. In the summer of 1974, she had her TV Variety show, the Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour. In 1976, "Ode to Billy Joe" became a feature film starring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor.

The film promised to answer the long-debated questions of why Billy Joe jumped off the bridge and what the girl knew.
By 1980, she was retired from performing altogether.

My biggest question is, were there any more songs? She certainly had the artistic ambitions; although Kelly Gordon received producer credit for "Billy Joe" and several other albums, Bobbie revealed that she produced most of her songs (and had to list an established producer at the label's insistence.) She resorted to covering pop and country standards to retain some measure of "Billy Joe" success, while the creative follow-ups - songs like "Casket Vignette" and "Apartment 21" - were ignored by the masses.
So, she did retire to enjoy motherhood and her spoils? Was she frustrated or heartbroken with the business? Did she just leave while the leaving was good? She was a mysterious woman from the first; no use expecting answers now...

We'll let her say goodbye with her buddies Bing Crosby and Tiny Tim:

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26

Another request: Dobie Gray, who led me to a musical movement that wasn't created by the musicians, but by their fans.
In the late-60's UK, the Motown sound was making almost as big a splash over there as the Beatles were in the US. As the sounds of soul music began to evolve, a clear line was drawn between the early soul sound that was influencing the mods and the blue-eyed soul scene, and the soul music that was embracing funk, psychedelia, and the politics of the times. While the new soul music was changing, the mod scene wasn't ready to change with it.
That's where the Northern Soul scene comes in: fans of the early sound began scouring their old record collections for undercelebrated songs to celebrate anew. B-sides that came and went in their original release found a new lease on life.
And that's where we pick up the story of Dobie Gray, whose "Out on the Floor" was on his first full=length album in 1965. The song made the British charts in 1975, and it's considered among the top 10 Northern Soul songs.

That 1965 album was a singles collection, brought on by the success of his first hit single "The In Crowd". A Top 20 hit in the US, the song was also adopted in the Mod scene.

But Dobie would have his own musical evolution in the 60's. In the latter half of the 60's, he joined the cast of the Broadway musical 'Hair'. During that time, he was also the lead singer in the band Pollution, most remembered for being managed by the guy who played Jethro on the 'Beverly Hillbillies'.

In 1972, he moved to Nashville and recorded a solo album on the Decca label, working with Mentor Williams, brother of songwriter Paul Williams. From here on, he would perform songs like the soul ballads and gospel tunes that he preferred. These songs would be categorized as 'country rock'. The album's title track was the Mentor Williams written-and-produced track "Drift Away"

Far and away his biggest hit, "Drift Away" carried him to his record label when Decca was swallowed by MCA. He had several singles bubbling under the charts over the next few albums, but no more breakthroughs, and none at his next home, Capricorn Records. He began increasing his efforts at songwriting, penning tunes for George Jones and John Denver. He toured well, particularly in South Africa; he convinced the apartheid goverment to allow him to play for integrated crowds, which was unheard of at the time.

By the 80's, he was recording again - this time, for the country charts.

But "Drift Away" is still the song Dobie Gray's known for, and it's also a great encore. When he re-recorded it as a duet with Uncle Cracker, "Drift Away" did even better the second time around - finally becoming a number 1 hit (and for half a year!), on the AC charts.
So, let's end this with a reprise, because it's a Monday as I write this, and because we all need this feeling, even if we don't listen to the Beach Boys...

Uncle Kracker - Drift Away
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 25

Happy Birthday to the Prince of Darkness, Peter Suschitzky. This second-generation cinematographer (his father was camera operator for the original 'Get Carter') got his nickname for pulling off scenes such as the Luke/Vader duel in 'Empire Strikes Back':

Suschitzky's the first cinematographer I learned to associate with a film, with the help of a hundred shouting fans. His first Hollywood film was the 1975 cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and his name in the opening credits has spawned a popular callback. He also shot a good looking film:

(This is a enjoyable shot scene, fourth wall broken and all. I'd intentionally left it off the Tim Curry tribute, but didn't realize I'd get the chance to use it again...)

His "Empire" work put him on the radar of David Cronenberg, who lost his long-time cinematographer to the 80's remake of 'The Blob'. Cronenberg tapped Suschitzky for "Dead Ringers", the beginning of a collaboration that's lasted over 20 years and 8 films. Here's a scene from the underappreciated eXsistenZ (recommended Not Safe For Work... or within an hour of eating...)

Their next team-up, a sequel to Eastern Promises, is scheduled for release in 2011. Besides Cronenberg, Suschitzky's also worked with John Boorman(Where the Heart Is), Tim Burton(Mars Attacks!) and Randall Wallace(The Man in the Iron Mask).

July 24

A Happy Birthday wish to former child star Mara Wilson. In her best roles, she distinguished herself by displaying an intelligence and precociousness that seemed more genuine than her peers; she really put the 'actor' in kid actor.

Born in 1987, she inherited a love of acting from her older brother, and Mara started acting at the age of 4. Two years later, she made her feature film debut, in the psychological thriller Mrs Doubtfire, starring Robin Williams:

'Mrs Doubtfire' was a box office smash, and Mara's star rose. The following Thanksgiving, her name was above the title of her second film, the 1994 remake of 'Miracle on 34th Street.' The following spring, the National Association of Theater Owners presented her with the ShoWest Award for "Young Star of the Year", a testament to her growing audience appeal.

Danny Devito was also impressed with Mara's talent. Devito cast her in what has become her most iconic role: Matilda.

Devito's Matilda brought to life the dread and delights of Dahl's stories like no one else had before or since, and Mara's performance as Matilda Wormwood was central to that.

2000's 'Thomas and the Magic Railroad' is the last movie she did before she concentrated on school and being a normal teenager. In the decade to come, her biggest project was in an Odessa,Texas production of Rogers and Hammerstien's 'Cinderella'.

She graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 2009. In her senior year, she created a one-woman-show called "Weren't You That Girl...?" It was an autobiographical piece about the child star phase of her life. She managed to avoid the typical post-child star cliches; it'll be interesting to see where the next chapter in her acting career takes her...

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 23

This post is dedicated to That Guy Ronny Cox, a folk singer who became an 80's Hollywood action staple. Born in New Mexico, Ronny had an affinity for music: he was calling at square dances at 11. As a teenager, he sat in Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue sessions in nearby Clovis, and recorded music for producer Norman Petty. He even earned his way through college through a rock n' roll band he played in with his two brothers.
In 1972, his musical ability helped him secure his first movie role, in the action film 'Deliverance'. He qualifies for this blog for this scene alone:

When Deliverance became a box-office smash, Ronny Cox suddenly had an acting career. He had his own series in 1974, playing the head of a modern family moving to a small town in 'Apple's Way'. But he found more success as a character actor, playing cranky doctors, slimy corporate executives, disapproving dads and plenty of cops. After his role as Police Captain Bogomil in the Beverly Hills Cop series, he became the go-to guy for The Police Chief Who Has to Reign the Loose Cannon In.
Here he is, playing that role, in what was supposed to be ex-Oakland Raider John Matuszak's breakthrough action film:

(Matuszak's greatest role in his brief career would come later, in 1985's "The Goonies"...)

Ronny Cox also developed another speciality character: the slimy bureacrat. Whether it was political ('Total Recall') or just business ('Robocop'), audiences found him eminently hissable. Here's a recent meme, featuring a memorable scene from 'Robocop':

Besides bellicose police administrators and creepy corporate climbers, he's played plenty of politicians ('Murder, She Wrote', Stargate SG-1... he's even played the President in 3 different movies) and military types (Taps, Star Trek:TNG).

The roles that ask him to pick up a guitar have been slight in his resume. There was, however, his moment while playing the police chief in 'Cop Rock', the 90's version of 'Glee':

In the 90's, he resumed his focus on his first love: music. These days, his music's squarely in the folk/americana vein. He tours regularly, and has recorded six albums so far.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 22

I'm featuring Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls today, because I'm something of a fan. I don't have any albums, but there's a few songs of theirs I've learned by heart and can strum them on guitar. I don't know what they call male Indigo Girls fans (besides naive, I guess), but I've liked their music since high school.
And it turns out Emily's the one I prefer. She tends to sing the higher parts in the harmonies. Also, she sings the vocals for my two favorite songs, which means she wrote the lyrics to my two favorite songs:

Arguably, Emily's highest charting hit isn't with the Indigo Girls, but in a duet with Vonda Shepherd, from one of the Ally McBeal albums:

Anyway, the Girls are in Lexington tonight, so if there's any tickets available, snatch them up and enjoy the show. Tell her Happy Birthday if you see her...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 21

Today's the birthday of international singing sensation Taco. It's not a nickname; seriously, his momma named him Taco Ockrese. He was born to Dutch parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, but I can't find the word 'taco' in either Dutch or Indonesian dictionaries. Was she rushed and did she just put two sounds together for the birth certificate? Was she really hungry when he was born? For now, the origins of his name remains a mystery to me (although I find myself saying 'Taco Ockrese' and thinking of big bad masterminds in Van Damme movies...)

Taco is, and will always be, known for one global hit:

But you know this blog's mission, and we wouldn't be talking about the man if he wasn't so much more, and he is so much more...
Before his pop music career blast, he had a well-stocked stage resume, culminating with a lead role in a Hamburg production of "West Side Story." "Puttin' On the Ritz" may be The Song that the world remembers, but he had several other showtunes sprinkled in his "After 8" album, including "Cheek to Cheek", "La Vie En Rose", and "Singing in the Rain":

Two years later, the world was ready to move on, and Taco tried as well. Here, he performs "Superphysical Resurrection", a single from his 1984 follow-up album. Notice the increase in hair volume...

The song wouldn't sound out of place alongside Go West or ABC, but it didn't click; the next year, he had another album of swing standards. By now, the song's begun to follow him around like Poe's Raven:

Here's a performance from the late 80's, where he's covering a 50's tune. Two items of note: the show host's intro riff, and Taco's developing mullet:

By this point, he was concentrating his efforts in Germany, finding success on stage and on German TV screens throughout the 90's. He was releasing new songs in the 90's, too, in the Stock/Aiken/Waterman vein.
In the millenium, he began releasing his renditions of rock and soul classics, likely emboldened by his two-year run in Berlin's hit stage show "Shakespeare Rock n Roll." Currently, he still performs the all-time classics on the casino circuit- including, of course, the standard that he made his own...

If you're going to have a one-hite wonder, you might as well have one that defines 'class'...

July 20

Nam June Paik was a Korean-born artist who began using television as his media in the early 60's. Not as a mass media, though- as the world's first recognized video artist, he used televisions as his canvas and paints.

This artwork is called 'Something Pacific'. The outdoor version, on the University of California San Diego campus, was his first public installation.

Growing up, Paik went to Germany to study at a music conservatory. While there, he befriended John Cage and several artists in the Fluxus movement, which wanted to destroy the definitions of what makes art in the name of returning art to everyday experience. He started experimenting with televisions.

His TV sculptures and art pieces (particularly his collaborations with cellist Charlotte Moorman) hit a nerve in the art world. His work also predates MTV and the post-millenial media saturated way of life we know today. Although he died in 2006, several of his works are on permanent display around the world, including 'Electronic Superhighway' in the Smithsonian's collection. (Incidentally, he coined the phrase 'electronic superhighway' in 1974, to describe what we call 'information superhighway' today.) Whether he was using TV to build giant robots or build bras, Paik used television to show us ourselves and what we could be.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 19

Here's a discovery: Dame Evelyn Glennie, professional solo percussionist.

Before her, a percussionist (drummer, xylophonist, etc.) would be part of an ensemble, band or orchestra. Growing up loving the drums, she noticed there were no solo percussionists in the way there are solo pianists or guitarists. So she created the job.
Her musical skills allowed her to advance to the Royal Academy of Music. From there, she focused on a solo career: searching for solo pieces to perform, commissioning performance pieces, until she became the world-traveling, Grammy-winning artist that she is today.

To explain just how much of a unicorn she is, perhaps I should add that she has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12. (No, she didn't read Oscar's lips.) She's learned to use the rest of her body to listen to her environment, so she hears her music, among other things, in a very different way.
In 2010, she received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Cambridge University, and she continues her worldwide crusade to move the percussionist's place from the back of the orchestra.
Here's a collaboration with Bjork, called "My Spine":

July 18

When a character actor's built a good career, they become a storytelling device just by showing up. Case in point: Margo Martindale

She's one of the supporting cast members in 2010's "Secretariat" movie. Which one? You'll recognize her. Two words: 'best friend'.

She has that southern drawl and pert smile that says "Middle America".

Here's a short list of some of her higher profile roles:
*the mom in Million Dollar Baby
*the mom in Wedding Daze
*the mom in Walk Hard
*the mom in Management
*the grandma in Hanna Montana: The Movie
She's also played her share of nurses, nuns, and nosey neighbors. Over two decades, she's became a familiar face, a comfort to the audience, shorthand for her character's identity and value to the story. Sh's the epitome of a That Guy.

Presently, the closest thing she has to a cult character is Camilla Figg, from the
TV show Dexter. Another minor character role, she had a memorable send-off in the third season:

Once in a while, she might find a stretch, like her role in the Alexander Payne segment of "Paris, Je T'aime". Margo's resume will very likely continue to fill with matronly and grandmatronly roles; considering how exceptional and distinct she makes them, that's not a bad thing. She's as American as apple pie:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17

Director Alex Winter fulfills so many purposes for this blog. He's a successful writer/director who's been unfairly eclipsed by timing and one particular acting role.
See, if you went looking for Alex Winter in the video, you'd probably grab one of the Bill and Ted movies. If you wanted to show off, you might grab "The Lost Boys"

But it's the works you can't find so easily that make me an Alex Winter fan. Collaborating with Tom Stern and Tim Burns, Winter started working in the director's chair, making music videos for bands like Extreme and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, lensing the cult classic Freaked, and creating the psychotic MTV sketch comedy show The Idiot Box:

BTW, that's Tom Stern playing Lockjaw. Burns would become a head writer on 'Crank Yankers', while Stern would be a director on such TV comedies as 'The Man Show', 'The Andy Milonakis Show', and 'The Chimp Channel'. As for 'The Idiot Box', the show only made it to six episodes; not even enough for a DVD release, apparently...

For the rest of the 90's, he got married and directed music videos and commercials. His next movie - and his first solo directing effort - was 'Fever'; it was invited to the Director's Fortnight at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival that year.
But his directing breakthrough seems to have become the Ben 10 live-action movies.
The two movies are currently the highest rated programs ever on Cartoon Network (and unfortunately, might be why the 'CN' stopped making cartoons for a while...), and has made Alex Winter a director in demand.

As of 2010, he's working on a remake of the cult horror film The Gate (in 3-D!) and recently directed test footage for a proposed TV series based on the underappreciated comic book hero The Blue Beetle. (You can keep up with his future endeavors on his website for Trouper Productions.)

I'll end this post with a musical note, with a video he and his posse made for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Knock Me Down':

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16

Graham Robertson has been a professional set dresser since 1996. He's the guy (or one of the guys, depending on the size of production) that arranges the props and furniture on the set, and makes sure everything's at their marks, for continuity's sake. He's done this for movies like Rush Hour 2, My Sister's Keeper, and Star Trek. Recently, he's been busy on the television front: Monk, The Closer, Hot in Cleveland, $#*! My Father Says... That's his Hollywood career for the last 15 years...

well, except for this one thing...

In 2000, he cut together a version of the Budweiser "Wassup?" commerical, using clip from the Superfriends cartoon series:

The video clip became a bonafide viral sensation, inspiring a glut of "Wassup?" clip parodies (and this is five years before YouTube made it easy for any 7th grader and grandmother to upload.) There was talk of the co-creators (Robertson worked with Philip Stark, screenwriter of "Dude, Where's My Car" and a producer on "That's 70's Show") turning the clip into a series for Cartoon Network, but Robertson's next move was creating what the Guiness Book of World Records recognizes as the first all-green screen feature film: Able Edwards.

Shot for $30,000, Edwards was filmed with no sets over a two-week period. While in post-production, he received a visitor in the editing suite: Steve Sodebergh. Sodebergh liked what he saw so much, he became an executive producer.
Able Edwards was released in 2004; it won the Robert Rodriguez award at the Hollywood MiniDV Festival, and then...
...nothing. His experience with Able Edwards informed his book, "Desktop Cinema: Feature Filmmaking on the Home Computer." Five years later, he's keeping busy arranging furniture on sitcoms.
This is the part of the story that fascinates me. Why no second movie? Did the film's lack of box office success dissuade him? There's no website, no sign of any current distribution; did things go sour behind the scenes? Did he, after creating an entire movie with no physical sets, being writer/producer/director/editor/one-man studio- did he find more fulfillment on movie sets? Did he tell the story he wanted to tell? Did he, in the story of Able Edwards, tell his own story and fortell his own fate? Or does he have something else in the basement, bubbling under? (and is "Land of Enchantment" that project?)

Does Graham Robertson have a second act?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15

The first thing I can say about Millie Jackson is she's NSFW. Hearing Millie do what Millie does best requires that warning, because she 'tells it like it is...'
She's got a fine singing voice, sounding more than a little like Gladys Knight. And she's certainly not the first to sing the kind of soul music that's a long way from Sunday morning. But what really makes her stand out is what she does between the lyrics: maybe it's the breakdown, maybe it's the intro, but there's a moment in her song, on the way to the song, where she starts talking to the audience, shining a light on the hundreds of stories finding shelter within that song... These moments have become her forte.
One of her signature songs, "If Loving You is Wrong", got her two Grammy nominations. "If..." was more successful on the charts for soul singer Luther Ingram, and it was also more successful for country artist Barbara Mandrell. But while she only made it to #42 on the pop charts, her version is the definitive one because she steps aside of the song and redefines it:

Performances like this particularly resonate with a live audience, when the singer strolls up to the song and points to the strings that tie the singer and the people in the crowd to a musical moment, a lyric that speaks a common truth in their lives. Singers like to do this, to get some call-and-response from the audience and sometimes to cover for a quick tech repair or bathroom emergency for one of the other band members. But Millie Jackson really made it an art unto itself.
On the net, she's more legendary for her tasteless album covers. They've become something of a meme for reminiscing about the golden age of vinyl.

As for Ms Jackson, she managed almost 40 R&B singles in the 70's and 80's, 6 in the top 10. She also had a duet with Elton John that was a hit in England, but didn't cross the pond:

She was a drive-time DJ in the Houston area for the following decade. Also in the 90's, she wrote and produced the play "Young Man, Older Woman", which was a hit on the urban theater circuit. Her daughter's also in the music business, singing with Eryka Badu.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14

Happy Birthday to Bob Casale. But if you know Devo, you know him as Bob 2.

And if you don't know Devo, then read on:

Devo was formed in Kent State University, in the shadow of the protest shootings. Devo fit closest to the New Wave sound, with a double dose of art school aesthetic. Bob was recruited by his brother, Gerald, and is considered part of the 'classic lineup'.

If you feel like shopping, that's not accidental. In its original release, "That's Good" was just one of Devo's songs commenting on America's conspicuous consumption culture. In the 2K's, the song was a cornerstone in a marketing campaign for Target department stores. That's how Devo irony works.
This is the same band who concocted Devo 2.0, which used Disney's child actor factory to cast a Devo cover band.

Another example of how the everyday looks when distorted through the Devo lens: their version of the Rolling Stones' classic "Satisfaction".

Devo lingered in the fringes through the 80's, and dissolved after their 1990 release fizzled. Several members continued to work together at Mutato Muzika, a recording studio and music lab in west Hollywood; Bob became a recording engineer there. The ex-Devo would help each other on splinter projects and soundtrack scores, recording together in several bands not named Devo, before formally reuniting for what became a world tour.
In 2009, they released their first new album in 20 years. Here's the first single:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13

Happy Birthday to Professor Erno Rubik, architectural engineer and creator of the world's most popular toy. He invented the Magic Cube in 1974, but when the Ideal Toy Company signed for international distribution rights, they changed the name to Rubik's Cube in 1980 (which is why they're celebrating a 30th anniversary so much later.)

The Cube was a phenomenon in the 80's, and it's still a global best-seller, probably because solving the puzzle remains shorthand for 'smarter than the average bear'.
Speedcubing competitions gather fans to see who can solve the Cube fastest (current record: 7.08 seconds); then blindfolded, or underwater, or with their feet, or blindfolded with a spotter...

Professor Rubik was able to start his own company, desigining more toys, as well as furniture (would you buy a Rubik's Couch? Would you ever be able to open and close a Rubik's Futon?) The international Rubik's site offers official 3X3 cubes, plus 4X4 cubes, 5X5 cubes, customization and lubrication kits (if your stickers are wearing out, for example), build-your-own 3X3 cubes... I also found a website that not only found various permutations of Cubes available, but such tchotchkes as cufflinks and coffeetables.
I wasn't a Cube-ist in the 80's; I preferred a Rubik's snake (officially, the 'Rubik's Twist'). My family had two: the classic blue/white and a sturdier orange/yellow one. While it has nowhere near the Cube levels of fandom, it's still a reliable seller. It's like a self-contained sculpture piece:

A Rubik's toy that I haven't seen in years is Rubik's Magic, which was several flat panels that connected together like snakes and ladders. It was almost as addictive, but not as durable.

But it's the Cube that makes him a star among contemporary Gepettos. I've read that he doesn't like doing interviews, and I could understand that if every other person I met asked me 'so, how do you do it?' In fact, if I was him, I'd have a basket of Cubes on the ready and make a reporter solve a cube for she could ask another question. I mean, it's just a toy; how hard can it be?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 12

They say the other half of a movie is sound. Somebody who would agree is Ben Burtt, who has made some of the most memorable sounds in movies.

Those sounds include: R2-D2, the lightsaber, ET, Wall-E, and the Darth Vader breathing apparatus.
Here he is, explaining the history of the lightsaber hum:

He also returned the "Wilhelm Scream" to popularity. Here's a retrospective:

I know I haven't written a lot for Mr Burtt; I figured his work can speak for itself...

July 11

Today, we tell the story of Tab Hunter, ex-teen heartthrob. His second film, 1952's "Island of Desire" made him a box-office draw, and the 1955 war film "Battle Cry" (where he was cast over James Dean) made him the box office king for the rest of the 50's. This period includes his most enduring role, in the film version of the Broadway smash "Damn Yankees"

Like any respectable 50's teen idol, Hunter began a music career: his first single "Young Love" hit number 1 in 1957. Hunter was such a cash cow for Warner Brothers, they blocked Hunter's recording contract and started Warner Bros Records, just so they could release his records. In 1960, he got his own sitcom, The Tab Hunter Show.
Five years later, he was on the dinner theater circuit. So, what happened?

Well, there's the whole 'growing up' thing, which usually ends a teen idol career all by itself. Then, there's the whole 'acting range of Paul Walker/Megan Fox' thing. His homosexuality may have also been a factor (Henry Wilson, the agent that named him, sold him out to the tabloids to buy silence about another Wilson client - Rock Hudson.) While it was never entirely out (until 2005), his other life was a persistent rumor, even at his career's height.
On the other hand, his reputation may have led to his resurgance.

He returned to the big screen in the 80's, starting in John Waters' "Polyester", then in such films as "Lust in the Dust", "Grease 2", and "Cameron's Closet". While he hasn't returned to A-list status, he seems to have become something else: a genuine actor.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

July 10

Today is Ellen Kuras Day, a cinematographer with a unique distinction: she's the only person to win the Cinematography Award at Sundance three times. Her experimental eyes have also served Spike Lee (Bamboozled, He Got Game), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine, Be Kind Rewind), Rebecca Miller (Ballad of Jack and Rose, Swoon) and Sam Mendes (Away We Go).
So let's get a sense of her aesthetic with a mini-retrospective of her work, starting with a trailer for the award-winning Swoon:

Swoon was the first of Kuras' Sundance winners. Besides 1995's Angela, Kuras also won for Personal Velocity:

In 2008, she sat in the director's chair for the first time, for the documentary "Nerakhoon" (translation: "The Betrayal"), about a Laotian family's struggle to emigrate - and then survive - America.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 9

Don't know if I've written about a That Girl yet, but here's one: Pamela Segall/Adlon. The slash is there because she actually has three or four name permutations she's been credited with.
She started her acting career in the 80's, most notably on the Facts of Life for a season and a half. She played Kelly the shoplifter, and the girl who could out-Jo Jo:

While she continued appearing on TV shows (Wiseguy, Redd Foxx) and movies (Say Anything, Ford Fairlane), Segall was really hitting her stride in voice work. She could hit that tough-cute vocal tone that says 'scrappy kid hero', so she found work on several cartoons, including Recess, Rugrats, Teacher's Pet, and King of the Hill, for which she won an Emmy.

Married in the 2K's, she now gets credited as Pamela Adlon. As of this writing, she can be seen on the TV series 'Californication' and she can be heard in those direct-to-video Tinkerbell movies. But here's a funny scene from the overlooked series Lucky Louie:

July 8

I just feel like listening to some tunes today. Happy Birthday to Jamie Cook, guitarist for the Arctic Monkeys. Apparently, he's the tastemaker for the band, too; he's the indie aficionado that introduced the band to their post-Strokes sound.
Here's the video for a between-album release, "Leave Before the Lights Come On". It stars Paddy Consadine(Hot Fuzz) and Kate Ashfield (Shaun of the Dead).

Today's entry's a little light(their first album came out in 2006), so here's another video, with a clown brawl:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 7

By default, my first choice for today's entry has to be Berry Sakharof. He taught me how to say "Happy Birthday" in Hebrew.
First, let me introduce you to Mr Sakharof. He's considered a guitar god in the Israeli rock scene, since the days of his first band, Minimal Compact, in the 80's. Now a successful collaborator, producer, and solo artist, he is a major concert draw in Israel.
"Yom Huledet" ('Birthday') was a song on his 1995 album "Cham al hayareach" ('It's hot on the Moon') that got a trance-y remix from Infected Mushroom in 2002. Here's the Chemical Brothers-esque version:

July 6

I didn't expect to return to the world of burlesque, but it's the birthday of Candy Barr, who has been called "the first porn star".
She was born Juanita Slusher, from a small town in Texas. She ran away at 13, to the bright lights of Dallas. She got work as a cigarette girl and cocktail waitress; she even got married (at 14!) but that didn't last... At 16, she got a dancing job at a Dallas gentleman's club, went blonde, and became Candy Barr, the girl that wore cowboy boots and a gun holster - and little else... She became a top draw...
But just before she became Candy Barr, she participated in a 'blue' film, the kind of short film that got shared at bachelor parties and fraternity houses. Today, "Smart Alec" is considered a classic of the artform; a critic for Film Threat called the short "the 'Citizen Kane' of stag films."

No, I'm not showing it here.

Here's a clip from "My Tale is Hot", where the devil tries to tempt someone with a Candy Barr clip. No, I'm not being ironic...

Anyway, her dancing got her seeing the country and making new friends... like gangster Mickey Cohen (who helped her skip to Mexico to escape a drug possession charge) and nightclub owner Jack Ruby (who gave her the puppies that started her dog breeding business... months before he shot the guy that shot Kennedy.) She was Joan Collins' choreographer in the 1960 film, "Seven Thieves," the closest Candy would come to a Hollywood career. (Her life story almost became a Farrah Fawcett movie, but that never got past the development stage...)

Eventually, she made right with the state, served her time, and took care of her family and dogs for a while. She returned to the burlesque stage around '68, made another stir when she posed for Oui magazine in her 40's, and even published a book of poetry. She passed away in 2005. In one of her later interviews, she said she was never interested in arousing men, she just wanted to dance.

Here's another look at a lovely lady, Miss Candy Barr...

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5

Today goes out to songwriter's songwriter Marc Cohn. Cohn's most famous for his song "Walking in Memphis", from his self-titled debut.
If you want to hear that song and its origins, the Iso Tank blog has already done a great job of recounting the Walking in Memphis story, plus they've got a primo recording that starts up as soon as you click onto the page, so adjust your volume first...
The song propelled his album to Platinum status; two more singles made some ripples, but got lost in the noise of 'Memphis'. (If you want to pop the question but don't like making speeches, just play "True Companion" so she hears the words, and then show her the ring in the middle of the second verse.)

He released a greatest hits in 2006, even though, besides "Memphis", he only made the charts three more times.

In 2005, after a Denver, Colorado performance, he was shot in the head when someone attempted to carjack him. Apparently, it hit him in the writer's block; he was released from the hospital the next day with no significant injuries, and he would end up returning to the recording studio for the first time in ten years, releasing an album in 2007. Here's a TV appearence of him performing one of those songs, called "Live Out the String" (because "Driving in Denver" would have been, y'know, repetitive.)

In 2010, he's releasing his latest album, which happens to be a covers album. In fact, it's all songs released in 1970, which is a pivotal year of inspiration for him. I admit, he picked a lot of winners for his setlist: Cat Stevens, Wings, Badfinger, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder... Basically, he sang his own mixtape, and we all win. If you're reading this before the album release, and you want a sample, join his mailing list and you'll get a free download of his John Lennon cover "Look at Me".

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4

The Fourth of July is recognized as America's birthday, and while I'm proud to be an American, this blog is about the people who get a murmur while everybody's celebrating the big day. And a real good candidate is 60's musician and blues revivalist Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, guitarist and harmonica player for Canned Heat.
Canned Heat is one of those underappreciated 60's bands with a familiar name but not quite icons. But they're defintely part of the 60's soundtrack - no, seriously, their song "Going to the Country" is the opening theme to the Woodstock documentary, but their concert set was cut from the film for time issues.

In the mid 60's, Wilson was a music student at Boston University and a blues aficionado, trading records and writing academic articles about the artistic merit of the genre and its practicioners. He joined several blues enthusiasts in weekly jam sessions, recreating their favorite songs; these sessions metamorphosized into the band Canned Heat.

The band's greatest commercial success coincides with the summer of love, with "Going up the Country" and "On the Road Again" becoming worldwide hits. But they didn't keep their success to themselves; they brought several classic blues musicians back into the spotlight, including Memphis Slim, Son House, Albert Collins, Sunnyland Slim, and John Lee Hooker. Hooker's double album with the band, Hooker n' Heat, would be the first album in his career to make the Billboard charts.
Hooker n' Heat was also the first Canned Heat album released after Wilson's death.

Wilson died in 1970, at the age of 27, another 'gone too soon' like his contemporaries Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison. And while he never achieved the visibility that they did, Wilson's contributions to rock and to the blues make him at least as essential to the architecture of American music.

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 3

Happy Birthday to the Chinese Hercules, Yang Sze, known to English-speaking action fans as Bolo Yeung. Bolo has been one of the most menacing villains ever onscreen, often without saying a word:

That's him in Double Impact; he's around 50 years old.

I'm still trying to verify his age; several sources say he was born in 1938, but his personal website says he was born in 1946. His story goes, he was already a renowned weightlifter in the 60's when he swam from the Mainland to Hong Kong to escape communism. He won the Mr Hong Kong weightlifting title for several years by the time he was discovered by the Shaw Brothers, and his acting career began en force.

Western audiences were introduced to Bolo in Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon", where Bolo plays the mastermind's main goon. Bruce and Bolo had been friends for some time, and Bruce even promised they would have a fight scene together in "Game of Death", but that scene was never to be.
The closest to an on-screen spar between the two are these between-takes photos from the set of "Dragon."

sparring w/ Bruce Lee

"Enter the Dragon" was enough to make him a big star in the East. (He even had a doppelganger, Lee Chun-Wa, who tussles with the like of Jackie Chan in 'Drunken Master.') Bolo's next breakthrough was in 1988's "Bloodsport", as Jean Claude Van Damme's nemesis. He became an action-star mainstay, starring alongside Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock, Billy Blanks...

He even played a good guy in Shootfighter, cast as the sensei forced to fight for his students' honor. The movie has the bonus of pitting Bolo against the evil sensai from the Karate Kid, That Guy Martin Kove:

Now long since AARP eligible, he lives in California as a fitness and martial arts instructor. He announced his retirement from acting in 2008; with nearly 100 films under his belt, that's plenty for fans to discover...

July 2

Happy Birthday to Jerry Mathers, one of TV's first child superstars. Jerry was the star of "Leave It to Beaver," a sitcom that's become synonymous with a decade and a way of life.

By now, the child star life trajectory's become a cliche, and you're probably expecting the same story about Jerry - that's not the case. Maybe it's because his father was a school principal, maybe it was a more naive time, maybe it was because at his audition, he said he'd rather be with his Cub Scout troop... But it seems that he never lost perspective about his career in relation to his life.
"Leave it to Beaver" ran from 1957-1963; after the show ended, he essentially retired from acting to concentrate on school, and used his merchandising residuals to financing a successful career as a real estate developer and banker. He returned to star in a TV-movie sequel, "Still the Beaver", which turned into another "Beaver" series that lasted six years.
Besides "Beaver", his most significant role might be in the Alfred Hitchcock film "The Trouble with Harry" (which he did two years earlier):

Jerry still acts occassionally (including a turn on Broadway's Hairspray production), but he's certainly not the True Hollywood Story cliche we've come to expect. To me, it's because he made two important decisions through his life: 1)he built a life outside of his show business career; 2) he didn't declare war on his iconic role. It seems that the cast of "Beaver" became a second family as well, and that had to help. (The guy that played Lumpy, his best friend? He's Jerry's investment manager. The guy that played Eddie Haskell, the troublemaker? He's a retired LA cop...) Jerry's lived the "hip to be square" life to the hilt, and that's not so bad.
The most 'rock n' roll' thing I could find was something from his brief music career: he fronted a garage band, "Beaver and the Trappers". They recorded a few singles on the Arista label, but mostly played sock hops in California, and... yeah, that's as rebellious as I can find.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1

Here's an Australian legend: John Farnham is Australia's 'king of pop', a singer who, thanks to 74 singles, has been on the Australian charts for the last five decades. He's so big in Australia, he's got a statue in Melbourne harbor. He's enjoyed success almost everywhere else in the world - everywhere, that is, except America.
He started as a teen idol in the 60's, bouncing between a recording career and the stage throughout the 70's. In the 80's, he took over the microphone spot in the Little River Band, touring with them and recording two albums. The Little River Band would only make the Top 20 once with Farnhma singing lead, with two other songs making the charts.
Here's a performance of that second single, on the TV show "Solid Gold":

By 1985, he was on his own again. His 1986 album 'Whispering Jack' went platinum in Australia 24 times over; it's the best selling album in Australian history.
A great deal of that success was due to the song "You're the Voice", a single that went #1 in six countries, top 10 in four more. In the US, the song made it to #82 - on a re-release.
Fortunately, the song has a life of its own. (I wish I could have found the clip from the 2007 film "Hot Rod", which uses the song to hilarious effect, especially if you remember the music videos they used to play on VH1. Seek it out...) It's a song that's been re-recorded several times over, although for most people, it's Farnham's version that stays with them...
Here's some famous fans, at a benefit concert, starting a singalong: