Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BLOG: Listen Up

Okay, so I think I've figured out a file hosting situation for this thing. However, I do need to test it, so if anyone wants to please download the song below, that'd be great. It's a direct link, and if you're running Firefox with the QuickTime plugin it should play right in your browser. Leave a comment to let me know how it went.

Neko Case - Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Friday, May 25, 2007

BLOG: Birthday Time

Today is the esteemed Brent Barron's birthday. He's turning 103.

You may know Brent as the inventor of the wristwatch, the fire escape, the pager and time. Brent briefly masqueraded as Christ for a while, later discovered to be the original copy of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Brent can be viewed here.

"Happy Birthday to Me."

Also, for a bit of geek trivia, today is the 30th birthday of the original Star Wars.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

COMICS: Adam Hughes vs. Womankind

Big news from the front lines!!! Hang on to your hats kids, this one is going to knock your socks, shoes, teeth and face right freaking off due to the life-altering message that I have to bring to you to-day!!! It's huge. Big. Pearl Harbour has been invaded, JFK has been assasinated and we've found life on Mars (and they've already sent AN INVASION FORCE!!!), but you won't give a hot-damn about any of those things after what I tell you!!!

Feminists are pissed at the comics industry.

In the immortal words of Martin Lawrence, "This shit just got real."

So, we've come across another example of an industry that is perhaps not as progressive as it should be, or even as it claims to be on some days. Women are objectified, brutalized and otherwise disrespected within fictional narratives in sequential graphic (and in this case, statue) form. Perhaps these predominantly male artists really do hate women. Perhaps they have an agenda to destroy the minds of our children (someone please think of the children), with all respect between the genders gradually dissolving until an all-out war of the genders consumes this planet (someone please think of the rainforest), ironically mirroring a comiclike dystopian storyline.

Artists Adam Hughes (the guy that made the statue in question) had some things to say on the subject:

"My idea was pretty simple, I thought – classic Mary Jane, from the days when Peter and MJ were boyfriend and girlfriend, and she’s found his Spider-Man costume in the laundry basket... She’s not [actually] doing his laundry, because I don’t know anybody that does laundry in a basket on a table. Even if you don’t have a washing machine, you’d do the laundry in the sink."

But what of the sexually suggestive pose, Adam?

"Well, Mary Jane isn’t a superhero, so you can’t really do anything with her that’s not some version of her just standing there... That’s pretty much all I was shooting for. Yeah, she’s sexy, yeah, she’s dressed like a sexy chick…but look at her history – that’s how she’s been portrayed for years, even when she’s not doing chores. Mary Jane is a bit of a bimbo. She’s been a supermodel and a dancer, an actress and a model…so I gave her a cute, sexy moment."

To be entirely honest, it's nothing that we haven't seen before. Frequenting local comic shops, I see things like this all the time, and don't think much of it. These statues aren't marketed towards kids, and they're certainly not marketed to reflect the sum perspective on real women from those in the comics industry. I don't personally know anyone that owns these sort of things, and I imagine that Hughes' reasoning makes perfect sense to those hardcore fans that collect
statuettes and the like because of an aesthetic preference (which I assume is tied to some kind of historical or nostalgic appreciation).

However, playing the Devil's Advocate, one could argue that a historical appreciation for a particular cartoon aesthetic amounts to the same as having blackface statues in your yard. Frank Miller is no-freaking-torious for using a film noir aesthetic in his comics, and I'm honestly never sure if this is because he thought those things were cool when he was a kid, or if he actually thinks all women are whores.

Hughes comments on the typical portrayal of women in comics:

"You draw what you like and I like beautiful women. It's weird because I did a poster of Heroines of the DC Universe for DC Comics a few years back and I was up there looking at proofs of the poster and this one woman who works there came up and said, 'Oh, my God! Look at that. No woman is built like that.' She was pointing at the way I drew Catwoman. 'No woman has a waist that small! Totally unreal.' This must have been a low blood sugar day for me. I didn't have my Wheaties, I don't know. I was just in a pissy mood and said, 'You know what, I don't look like Superman, but I don't go around bitching about it.' [laughter] And it's true."

Taking the human form to an extreme has been the hallmark of comics illustrations since the idea of the superhero originated (something that comic-based films have struggled with). This enhances the narrative because these characters can't possibly be real, and neither can most of the situations they encounter. There are exceptions to this, where a semi-realistic human form is used for characters encountering the difficulties of the real world. However, how many kids want to read about the real world?

(I seem to be coming back to the idea of children and comics perhaps a little much for this post, but be sure that I do have a larger point about that for a later entry.)

I believe that the majority of the mass-media-attention seeking "feminists" are not really seeing the real problem (and I never denied there was one). They criticise the human form as it's represented in comic books, but the real issue is in the narrative. The devil is in the details my friends, and I don't believe that anyone who talks about comics on Oprah or The View hasn't read a comic book since puberty, if that. (For those of you curious enough, there are certainly many female fans who are actually comic readers asking for a more progressive industry who have many good points to be made.)

For those of us who do frequent the local comic shops, maybe we are sick of the grisly fate that many a female companion has suffered. It has been the stuff of legend within the comics industry since Women In Refrigerators came around, and maybe enough is enough. If not because girls don't want to see it, then because at times it's simply not compelling storytelling. Why kill female characters? Hell, why kill any character? A big reason is that readers haven't responded well to characters that are, for lack of a better word, shite. Many characters of questionable quality tend to be women, unfortunately.

The real issue, I think, is not that the (primarily male) comic writers hate women, it's that they don't have a clue HOW to write compelling female characters. I'm not a woman, and I have no idea what their internal motivating factors would be in a fictional context. There are a scant few male writers who can write a female character as well as thier male ones, and I believe this to be the problem.

Joss Whedon is one of the few writers around today with a very progressive attitude and the actual ability to write Kitty Pryde such that girls (and guys) can identify an sympathize with her on the same level that young boys have felt about Spider-Man for the last forty-five years. He seems to get that to write a flawed female character, you do not necessarily need to paint her as "the victim" or the polar-opposite "woman warrior." After all, what kind of range would real people (in tights) have if this was all they were allowed to be? Brian Michael Bendis' run on Ultimate Spider-Man is of a similar situation, with absolutely compelling female characters supporting Peter Parker in a way that has never been done in the mainstream Marvel Universe.

In short, the problem is always less than what you've been told it is, but more than nothing. Maybe someday Stephanie Brown will get a memorial in the bat-cave too.

For some more discussion on this, check here. As always, let the comments be your battleground.

Monday, May 21, 2007

TV: Heroes Season Finale

Spoilers Follow.

As is par for the course for Heroes, the latest, and final, episode of the season manages to surprise almost everyone watching, although this time not in a good way. For anyone that isn't watching Heroes, it's a show about 'ordinary people with extraordinary powers' that manages to include every single superhero power ever created and create Dallas quality cliffhangers every week. This is the type of series that season finale writers dream of their whole life. This is the series that makes children want to grow up and write season finales. Superpowers give you the ability to make anything happen and the comic book style that the series pays homage to makes even the most ridiculous plot elements completely acceptable. In short, this season finale was a pitch right over the plate. Underhand. From an 8 year old. With a basketball.

And someone missed.

The moment that everyone was waiting for from this indulgently epic series, the battle between Jedi-like characters Peter and Sylar, never materializes. To put so much effort into creating subtle and no-so-subtle superhero references throughout the series and skip the traditional ten page final battle is disappointing to say the least. We're teased by the possibility of a truly climactic struggle between good and evil when Peter tells Nikki/Jessica to leave Sylar to him...and then...nothing great really happens.

The comic book cock tease continues: Nathan appears. Does this herald the creation of a new villain, or perhaps the revealing of Sylar's spectacular counter-plot? No. No tangled webs are woven. Nathan and Peter make a beautiful and noble sacrifice sprinkled with brotherly love. Families are restored. More noble sacrifices. Hugging. Viewers wonder if this was only intended to run for a single season. The 'cliffhanger' that finally materializes is unsatisfying and can be reversed with two lines of dialogue (maybe it still is like Dallas).

For everyone's benefit, here are some traditional and satisfying comic-book style endings.
1. Nathan grabs Claire and flies away. Claire shoots. Blackout.
2. Sylar finds an unconscious Candice (the illusion girl) and absorbs her power. Sylar's 'death' is simply an illusion he creates to force Peter to explode.
3. A new power is introduced, preferably from the Patrelli matriarch.
4. Future Hiro stops Present Hiro from killing Sylar, telling him that the future becomes much worse if he does.
5. Sylar and Peter both explode when they touch; it turns out that only their combined powers could destroy the city. Discussion of destiny ensues.
6. An epic battle. Between anyone.

Make some alternate endings for the DVD release, just make sure to credit me as an executive producer.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

FILM: Brokeback Batman

So we finally have a picture of what Heath Ledger will look like in the next Batman movie. Through one of the more genius viral marketing campaigns, Warner Brothers launched a campaign website for incumbent District Attorney Harvey Dent with a title taken from one of the best mystery-oriented comics I've ever read (The Long Hallowe'en), showcasing a poster of Aaron Eckhart (you may remember him from Thank You For Smoking) as the esteemed candidate.

Later in the week, another site popped up called I Believe In Harvey Dent Too, featuring a similar campaign poster, although marked up a bit. The webmaster challenged browsers to submit their email address (Some kinda pyramid scheme?), and one more pixel would be revealed of an image underneath.

Naturally, it only took about a day for the image to become clear, showing our man Ennis del Mar with the white makeup and a hideous scar across his mouth. Now, although the picture isn't really showing much at all, it really gives us an idea that we won't be seeing Chris Nolan's new Batman franchise delve into the land of rubber nipples and brain-ray stealing machines anytime soon. This keeps fanboy happy.

However, there has been a bit of skepticism about the picture since and the number of fake Joker pictures on the Internet has been about the same as the number of biological warfare scares in 2002.

Regardless of it's authenticity, whoever orchestrated the image reveal is a genius.

Since the release date is over a year off, I'm sure we'll be treated to a number of other surprise marketing-based revelations about the film. Word on the street is that a teaser trailer will premiere sometime this summer, perhaps attached to the latest adventures of everyone's favourite boy wizard (I think I'll just watch it on the tubes, thanks).

UPDATE: The Joker picture site is now been taken down, and replaced with textual laughter. They did leave a note, however, saying "See you in December."

MUSIC: Rage Against the Rage Against the Machine

Get out your dreadin' wax and Che patches - everyone's favorite funk-metal protesters are making a come back, and they's bout to git outspoken on yo ass. And no, we're not talking about Linkin Park, although with the new "What I've Done" video they too seem to have developed a social conscious about... everything, I think...? Seriously, ever since Jay-Z taught them how to really rap, forcing the brown dude to quit his day job and play guitar, what social movement DON'T LP support? Another topic, another post.

BUT no friends, no, we're talking the original (ha!) renegades themselves, Rage Against the Machine. Realizing that Chris Cornell is, well, Chris Cornell, Tom Morello and Co. ditched the cock rock pleasantries, retrieved Zac Dela-whatever from the forest mud hut he was told to wait in until they got back from 'fixing the car', and made a B-Line for the summer festival circuit. Two headlining dates have been set on top of their Coachella appearance, and speculation knows no bounds when it comes to a... whisper it... new Rage album.

Now, Rage is considered THE legitimate protest band of the 90's, speaking for millions, and inspiring millions to speak. When they went away, there was a massive Iraq shaped void left to be filled by bands who seemed to lack the authenticity, sincerity of conviction, and, let's face it, sheer talent to articulate youth aggression and protest quite like Rage did - Please sit down Billie Joe, everyone knows you tried your best...

Well, 7 years, two towers, two phony elections, and a crater that used to be a country later, the new millennium is being graced by the band's presence once again...

... Does anyone else feel kind of embarrassed? I get the distinct feeling like they're the parents coming back from vacation and we're the good-intended teens who had a few friends over whose older, richer, and drunker friends ended up trashing the house. I can picture it now: we're standing in the front lobby, desperately trying to frebreeze the patriot act out of the constitution as the door nob is slowly turning. And of course we're sweating uncontrollably because we know that on the other side of that pretty white suburban door awaits a very public, very catchy scolding.

Really though, we have to admit the place is kind of a mess. And the general assumption about Rage coming back is that they are now going to provide for us a flash point from which change can once again occur in the face of corrupt governance. The sentimentalist in all of us imagines a conversation where the band members sat down at their Justice League-esque table, realized the world needed them, and slipped on their power rings once more to finally rid the world of evil. It's exactly like Disney's The Incredibles. Except instead of spandex stretching over newly developed guts, we've got a white rapper from the 90's trying on new lyrical topics like blogging, Connie Rice, and Seagway's (note: not actual new lyrics from Zac... but a boy can dream).

Whether it is true or not, whether the band saw a need for themselves and decided to act, matters little. The point is: they're back, and they're important. This ain't no regular comeback, folks because unlike other bands whose only importance ever was to produce good tunes (here's looking at you, Smashing Pumpkins), Rage Against the Machine's legacy was beyond their music. They bring with them a gathering point from which angry youth and passionate protesters find strength.

Unfortunately, Tom Morello doesn't seem to understand this. In a recent Spin magazine interview, he said that he realizes people are trying to make the connection between the world being in a such a bad way right now and Rage coming back to make it right, but he doesn't think that way. They're back to make music and while they definitely wish to inspire change, the political climate now had no barring on them getting back together. Modesty is fine, Tom. No one likes a self-important asshole (again, here's looking at you Smashing Pumpkins). But what bothers me here is that Rage do not seem to understand their own importance. There are few, if any, bands in their position, and once, just ONCE, I'd like to see something happen because the stars aligned and someone seized the moment. Like I said, whether we or they like it, they're are an important band, and now that they're back, someone should remind them that it's Rage Against the Machine, not simply Mehh Against the Machine.

... man... that was bad even for me. ah well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

MUSIC: "Don't you know there ain't no Devil; that's just God when he's drunk..."

I've always objected to people who listen to music for the wrong reasons. Be it fashionable that week, all of your friends like it, the manufactured VJ tells you to like it, etc. All of these reasons, are not true reasons to appreciate music. Music should speak to you on a very primal, emotional level. If a certain song or artist appeals to you and affects you, my advice is to remove that artist from any social stigma/misconceptions or perceptions of the artist or song that you already may have. Evaluate the song yourself: do your own thinking. Just because a song never became a hit, doesn't mean it is a song of poor quality, and, in turn, just because a song became a hit, doesn't mean it is of poor quality.

This being said, I was, at first, admittedly hesitant to start to "get into" Mr. Tom Waits. Any music that is said to be hip and/or fashionable to listen to, I immediately have a bit of premonition to explore. Don't make the same mistake I did. If you're a fan of true, honest songwriters, you may already be a fan of Tom Waits and not know it. His songs are so painstakingly real that they are, at times, difficult to listen to, which makes them all the more rewarding and endearing in the end. His work is so varied and challenging (especially the Island Records years) that it often takes patience, but stick with him: you'll be glad you did. If I were to recommend a starting point, I'd probably recommend the same Waits album that I started with, his melancholic debut album Closing Time, from his more melodic, jazzy earlier years. I discovered each album after that one chronologically, which, if you enjoy Closing Time, will ultimately prove extremely rewarding. For any emotion you may have, there will be a Tom Waits song that you will think he wrote especially for you. Or a hooker in Minneapolis. Or a mule. Or Rickie Lee Jones. Or Christ.

Plus, there are few better companions on a clear, June night, than Mr. Waits and a bottle of cheap red wine.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

MIX: Summer Songs

It's beginning to lighten up a bit outside after all of the rain the other day that engulfed most of Southern Ontario. Although I have yet to see what the actual temperature is like today, the reflection from some of the shinier cars outside my office window tells me that it may be rising.

Regardless of that, I maintain the ideal 25 degree climate in my imagination for now. I was originally going to write on some concert recordings I had found, but I'm having a bit of a time figuring out a web hosting situation. Do I want to pay? Probably not. Hardware problems also have put a bit of a hold on plans for hosting files, other than linking to the Hype Machine (A service that has actually been working out pretty well so far.).

With (hopefully) temperate climates approaching, I've decided to round up what I think will make a great soundtrack for warm days at the beach with the windows rolled down, and nights that come slow enough for you to get home by nightfall (although you probably won't). I've employed the "day at the beach" model for this, but almost any small-town summer activity will fit the template, be it a house party or a road trip.

* Amos Lee - Keep It Loose Keep It Tight > This is perfect to start off to any mix tape or short playlist. I was thinking the other day about albums that fade in rather than smack you in the face with a wall of sound immediately. Although it doesn't exactly fade in, it's got a similar effect, gradually easing you into a period of listening.

* The Beach Boys - Help Me, Rhonda > Because a trip to the Beach is nothing without the Boys.

* 54.40 - Casual Viewin' > I used to really hate this band, until I heard this song two summers ago, and everyone somehow knew all of the words.

* Paul Westerberg - Waiting for Somebody > See the previous post for my feelings on Mr. Westerberg.

* The Clash - Train In Vain > My Dad was absolutely convinced that this was an old Motown song, being covered. I don't think he was entirely convinced, even by the album credits.

* Sheryl Crow - Members Only > Despite her latter-day radio-friendly annoyances, the first three Sheryl Crow albums are filled with excellent songs such as this one. Key lyric: "And all the white folks shake their asses/looking for the two and four."

* Everclear - Santa Monica > I know a lot of people hate Everclear, but I'd put pretty much all of the So Much for the Afterglow album on this list if I could.

* Jack Johnson - Do You Remember / Ben Harper - Gold To Me - If you think that Jack Johnson and his friends spend less than 90% of their spare time at the beach, then I think you are totally underestimating the power of music or something, dudes. But seriously, anything recorded by Jack Johnson sounds like it was recorded on a beach. Pass or toke, man.

* Jeremy Fisher - Sula / The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Penny For Your Thoughts / Matt Mays + El Torpedo - It Don't Matter / The Mighty Mighty BossTones - She Just Happened > These songs sound like something that you would overhear approaching a bandstand just after the sun has set at the beach.

* Kathleen Edwards - Summerlong / Camera Obscura - I Need All The Friends I Can Get > What would the this be without an introspective ballad about a summer fling? I'd say both of these almost fit that profile, and for some reason I can't explain it seems that these songs are perfect companions.

* Primal Scream - Big Jet Plane / Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous > There is something about guitar played with a slide that sounds like a setting sun on a warm night, particularly the opening pedal steel notes in RK's More Adventurous. Primal Scream's Stones-esque act works surprisingly well too, capturing a party that's just winding down, with cars that are either driving away or permanently parked for the night.

* Petra Haden & Bill Frisell - Yellow > This Coldplay cover is very obviously the drive home from wherever you've been all day. I find that it's especially reminiscent of the sounds that drowned out the engine pulling away from her place. For people that hate Coldplay, you'll find that the song has an entirely different (and increased, in my case) appeal with a girl singing it with minimal instrumentation (Frisell is a god on the stringbox).

Friday, May 11, 2007

MUSIC: I missed the boat on the Replacements

It's like they've been hovering over me for years, and I just never bothered to look up. Had I discovered this band in high school, they would have been the equivalent to Nirvana for me, Paul Westerberg my Kurt Cobain. As I see it now, they were the heirs to the throne occupied by the Clash in the late 70's and through the early 1980's.

The first Replacements album that I heard was Tim, and it blew me away almost immediately. The Goo Goo Dolls later re-made this album, and called it Superstar Car Wash (Back when they were an alright band, in my opinion, but we won't get into that right now.).

Some spectacular tracks from Tim include the anthemic Bastards of Young, the swinging Waitress In The Sky and the adjectivelly challenged Left of the Dial. The album ends with the song Here Comes A Regular, which absolutely reeks of being a "punker's first ballad," although it's really quite charming because of that.

Although the follow up album Pleased to Meet Me was a bit more polished ("JUDAS!"), Westerberg cannot be blamed for showing off his pop-chops on this album. Catchy as all freaking hell, I tells ya. I swear, as soon as anyone hears Can't Hardly Wait, it will be etched in their minds for all time. The rest of the album is certainly not filler either.

The big gap in my Replacements experience is the seminal Let It Be, which I really need to find this summer.

All Shook Down is a pretty good album in it's own right, but is fairly boring compared to their previous achievements (As with Don't Tell A Soul, before that). If you find it for less than $10, get it, but certainly do not pay full price for it.

Another interesting thing to note is that The Replacements have probably been covered almost as often as the Beatles, so here are some standouts that I've heard:

Counting Crows - Unsatisfied (will link later on)
The Weakerthans - Swingin' Party
Jesse Malin - Bastards of Young

This has been another episode of "I Arrived Late To The Party." We hope that you have enjoyed my shame.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

MUSIC: St. Robinson's Cadillac Dream

The current blog name was chosen hastily after only a slight bit of research, but I think it really fits with what I'd like to do here. It was chosen because a blog can't be started without a good (or at least a distinguishable (i.e.: not "the cake blog" or "the dogfood blog.")) name, and it's getting late in the evening as of this writing.

The song from which the lyrics were taken is called "St. Robinson and His Cadillac Dream," from an album by Counting Crows called "This Desert Life" (And no, it's not the one with "Mr. Jones" on it.). Here is what the writer, Adam Duritz, has to say about it:

"Thats the one song we had written before we started the album, its the only one, although it was drastically different before. It's of a different depth lyrically cause its really about someone, It's sort of me taking the piss out of myself in a way. It's about a guy with big dreams, which is you know, been what I've always been. But it's about a guy who is so obsessed with his big dreams and like everything he wants out of life, but he cant relate to life on simpler terms, all he can think of is in terms of his big dreams, and it makes it so he can't deal with day to day communication with people, specifically this one person. It's a song about how at some point this guy is looking back at him life and hes seeing a point where two peoples lives spun together and then for what ever reason they spun apart.." [Thanks to Anna for the quote.]

But no, I'm not St. Robinson, and I'm not trying to make some kind of grand statement. I do like the bit about relating to people on simple terms, and I think everyone has something in their lives or in their minds that keeps them from completely connecting to others while out there in the shadow of the modern machine. Isn't that what it's all about though, right? We're all trying to connect. That's why we have music.

Regardless of whether or not the Crows are hot shit among the college crowd has yet to be fully explored by me. But who the hell cares, right? It's my damn weblog, I'll do what I want. Since you can't hear music through someone else's ears, there are very few times when you can discuss music with someone and know exactly what they are talking about, and that I suppose it is these differences that form individual tastes.

I'm only here to make an argument for mine, using words and (hopefully soon) sounds. Hell, maybe even other people's words from time to time.

Monday, May 7, 2007

BEGIN: First Post

Here's a test post. One more for the road... or maybe the first one from the road.

I elbowed up at the counter with mixed feelings/Over mixed drinks/And Bubba and the Roadmasters moaned in pool hall/Concentration as they knit their brows to/Cover the entire Hank Williams Song Book

Whether you like it, or not.