Arguably the least plot driven film from the Coens since "The Big Lebowski," which still provided the journey for a new carpet as the Macguffin of sorts, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is even more freeform, but never out of the Coens' grasp. The film unfolds over what turns about be roughly a week or so in the life of Llewyn, and follows his attempts to put some order to the chaos in his life. And it's a tough week: Jean reveals he's pregnant with his child; he's saddled carrying the Gorfeins' cat after it escapes out the door, and accidentally locks the door behind him after staying the night (a great running gag that eventually turns into a lovely metaphor for Llewyn's journey); he's chasing payments from Legacy and trying to line up some gigs. A road trip later in the picture offers a change of pace, but this is a slice of life of one of many trying to make it on the folk circuit, and the Coens capture every detail, acknowledging their fondness for their era, while being able to laugh at it as well (though without getting as broad as Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind," the last major folk movie).
Gotta love that classic folk song, produced by the irresistible T-Bone.
The 50th anniversary remembrance of Dr. King's famous March on Washington raised some questions. Kevin Drum (and Chris Matthews) wondered why the Republican party, despite much effort, could not find a single speaker willing to be associated with Dr. King, the great black man who spoke for justice and equality.
And ever-thoughtful Randy Lewis for the Los Angeles Times' pop music blog wondered why no singers or musicians comparable in stature to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez back in the day could be found on the dias.
Good questions both. Reminds this listener of what Joan Baez said about the first song she and Dylan sang that day, When the Ship Comes In, In a 2005 documentary about Dylan, No Direction Home, directed by Martin Scorcese, Baez said that it came out of an episode when a nice hotel (where she had been booked) wouldn't give Dylan a room because he looked scruffy. He stormed off and wrote the song in a single night. In a rage, she added, but he turned that to good use in the lyrics:
A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in
Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’
In the documentary Dylan said he had no idea he wrote an anthem with "Blowin' in the Wind." If true, that means that anthems (and great turns of phrase, like "the whole world is watching," a chant from the demonstrations and police riot in Chicago in l968), came naturally to him, that dang genius.
Despite the crude recording and staging, his performance with Baez and other folks singers that day before hundreds of thousands of people is quite moving. And i'ts amazing that he had just written these tough songs, one on tour with civil rights marchers in the South, some of which he hadn't even recorded.
Which is not to overlook MLK and his incomparable "I have a dream" speech, available not in video but in a transcript, with so many memorable turns of phrase, such as:
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Last week the great J.J. Cale, beloved by talents ranging from Eric Clapton to Neil Young to Widespread Panic, left our realm. But he'll never be forgotten, for "Around Midnight" and "Cocaine" and many other great songs.
As a thoughtful obit in the Daily Beast pointed out, J.J. Cale songs don't seem to have been written -- they seem always to have been there, like the blues themselves.
Here's my personal fav J.J. Cale song:
And a really warm obit in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend, written by former columnist Steve Chawkins, concluded with this anecdote about the notoriously shy Cale:
Escondido city fathers tried to contact him, but in a 2009 Times interview Cale said he put them off as long as he could.
"They wanted me to talk to the chamber of commerce," he recalled. "And I said, you know, I'm not a chamber-of-commerce kind of guy."
According to the late great California composer Lou Harrison: "A good gamelan is the most beautiful musical ensemble on the planet."
His point was proved this spring at the Ojai Music Festival, where a fifteen-person-strong ensemble, called Gamelan San Raras, from UC Berkeley, with Hrabba Attadottir on the violin, played Harrison's meltingly gorgeous Philemon and Baukis. And for free, a gift of the festival!
Thanks to a video maven from Bart's Books, here's what the final movement of composer John Luther Adams' Strange and Silent Music looked like this morning at Besant Hill in Upper Ojai.
During the entrancing performance, which began on the drums, moved to the east for a soft thudding playing of the gongs, to the south, to the west for xylophones, and then back to the drums, the composer Adams walked around and listened from various spots on the low hill where the performers, from a percussion group based at UC San Diego called red fish blue fish.
According to the program notes, this piece grows out of "the overwhelming violence of nature...a violence at once both terrifying and comforting, transpersonal and purifying." That description evokes cacophony and danger, which the piece itself only hinted at, with soft drums rolls set against sharp snare banging, and the sounds flowing out into the fog as the sun came up.
After the performance I told Adams I thought the piece was wonderful.
"I'm not sure I like it," he said. "But this piece doesn't care if I like it or not."
I asked him about the gongs, and he said he didn't have a good word for that sound a gong makes as it is hit softly, and brassily expands without pealing, but he said the piece was about resonance. Resonate it did, throughout the upper valley.
Ever heard of a soundtrack to a book? Me neither, but that's what we have here with blackprairie (including members of the Decembrists) and their lovely, moving collection of songs to a forthcoming book about efforts to save three endangered species, called Wild Ones. The author got to know Chris Funke and friends before they hit it big, and he sent them chapters, and they traded him songs.
Speaking of which...author Jon Moonallem writes in Slate and tells the story of "A Tranquilized Polar Bear Rising Thru an Autumn Sky":
The town of Churchill, Manitoba is a shivering little settlement on the edge of Hudson Bay that, every fall, gets overrun with about 900 polar bears and 10,000 polar bear tourists. Polar bears routinely wander into town—they especially love hanging out by the elementary school. When they do, folks call 675-BEAR and a squad of bear patrol officers tries to herd the animals back onto the tundra, firing off pyrotechnics and noise-makers. Bears that won’t budge are tranquilized and transferred to a Quonset hut near the airport, a facility sometimes referred to as the “Polar Bear Jail.” Each bear serves a month sentence—enough to dissuade it (hopefully) from entering town again—then it’s drugged again, packed in a net, and airlifted under a helicopter to a safer area north of town while crowds of tourists gather to watch. It’s a breathtaking thing to see: a polar bear lifting off the ground and flying away.
This week George Jones, by consensus one of the greatest of country singers, passed away. Have to admire his ability to tell a story (as in the wonderfully rich Southern California, a duet with Tammy Wynette) but also his ability to make a story:
...make no mistake, he could be menacing, a word that came to be
associated with Jones for much of his life. To sugarcoat his worst
impulses is to ignore the truth: When Jones was drunk, coked up or
otherwise out of his mind, he turned bad. In "I Lived to Tell It All,"
Jones' astonishingly honest 1996 autobiography, he tells of being drunk
on his tour bus and shooting five bullets from a .38 near a teetotaling
manager who wouldn't join him in finishing a bottle of vodka.
Jones once drove a lawn mower to a liquor store after his wife hid
his car keys, and then sang about it in a ditty called "Honky Tonk
Song": "I saw those blue lights flashing over my left shoulder / He
walked right up and said 'Get off that riding mower.'" Jones was one of a
kind — in both the best and worst use of the term.
The same could be said of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. Westerberg was just as witty, and just as wild, if not more so. From Aquarium Drunkard:
"Toward the end of their touring behind Pleased to Meet Me, the
Replacements gigged in Portland, Oregon with the Young Fresh Fellows
opening. And in the history of notorious Replacements shows, this one
ranks high. Though it’s difficult to nail down the exact story behind
the fabled night, the following anecdotes show up repeatedly: the ‘Mats
pelting the Young Fresh Fellows with various objects during their set;
the band breaking into a room (the show was held at the now-defunct Pine
Street Theatre) purloining costumes (of which they then wore ontstage);
the band being far too drunk to play effectively; clothes being taken
off and thrown into the audience — and the audience, in some cases,
returning the favor. This last part is my personal favorite as
apparently Tommy Stinson remembered, after throwing his clothes into the
crowd, that he had left ten dollars in his pocket. After raging at the
crowd to throw his pants back, he instead rifled through the clothes
thrown on stage, located twenty dollars in a pocket, and danced around
the stage in victory. Another account just reported that they stumbled
through a set of less than 45 minutes, played a cover of Bryan Adams’
“Summer of ’69″ and then split. Either way, a typical ‘Mats show."
Is it possible that the desire to tell a story is part of a desire to be dramatic? To be a diva, an acter-out, a drama queen? And that genre is less important than that desire to live in drama?
Regardless, you have to love the Replacements for writing a song about the city they dissed -- and at the end apologizing for their antics. "Portland, I'm sorry." To apologize to an entire city! Reckless charm.
Like the lyrics:
Shared a cigarette for breakfast
Shared an airplane ride for lunch
Sitting in between a ghost
And a walking bowl of punch
Can you play a little hunch?
Predicting a delay on landing
Well I predict we'll have a drink
Lost my money on the first hand
Got burned on a big fat king
And your ears are gonna ring
And your eyes just wanna close
Nothing changing I suppose
Anthemic folk-rock, as Jon Parelessaid. With a dash of sarcasm, he voiced the thoughts of a young fan newly converted to this "roots" music: “Wow, I’m cool. I heard a banjo. I’m different. And I’m going to tell all my friends how much hearing an actual banjo as opposed to a synthesizer moved me.”
Yes, but...stand-out tracks include I Will Wait, Stubborn Love, and the instant classic Winter in My Heart (though it's a yearning ballad, not an anthem). My fav band is everyone else's too, Mumford & Sons, the most exciting, although Fleet Foxes still have the best harmonies, and the Avett Brothers make me ache the most.
Most visual is surely Lord Huron:
...who seems to offer in their visual work a destination, a virtual home in the lonesome wilderness.