Tuesday, July 31, 2007

14 Best Protest Songs

The genre of music in which the most iconic and embarrassing songs have been written (or, in Elvis's case, performed). Fortunate Son and Eve of Destruction. Blowin' in the Wind and the Dead Prez vegetarian anthem Be Healthy. And any number of other well-meaning but musically horrific songs. It is probably easier nowadays to mock the genre rather than make a credible contribution, despite the fact that the quantity of things to protest is certainly not shrinking. Jeff mentioned Biko already, so I will leave it off the list; and the ones mentioned above can go without saying.

1. Clampdown, the Clash

(My favorite Clash song. Addressed to industrial workers, but strangely biting even in a modern office building. Since I was just in such a building, this song makes it to the top of the list. The men at the factory are old and cunning / you don't owe nothing / boy, get running! / it's the best years of your life they want to steal...)

2. A Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

(An obvious choice, but unavoidable.)

3. We're a Winner, Curtis Mayfield

(A joyous protest song! Pretty much only directed at black people but I love it anyway.)

4. Revolution 1, the Beatles

(Not really suitable for singing at protests -- "Guys, hold on, we need a plan!" -- but probably better than the Lennon songs that are. Although having a plan does indeed seem revolutionary nowadays.)

5. Let Me Die in My Footsteps, by Bob Dylan

(So many to choose from! I'm going with this one because I love it, and also because I am now self-conscious about being obvious. No one has bomb shelters anymore but the song still resonates.)

6. Don't Look Now, CCR

(One of the greatest sets of lyrics in all of music, a good example of how much can be said in a three minute song.)

7. There But for Fortune, Phil Ochs

(I really love this song. Draft Dodger Rag and a few others are still good, but this is probably the only Ochs song that holds up completely. And stabs at the conscience a little, no less.)

8. I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I'll Get it Myself), by James Brown

(The title is really the only good line in the song. Luckily, it is repeated several dozen times.)

9. Higher Ground, Stevie Wonder

(I actually think the Chili Peppers' cover might be better than the original, but once they start talking about "funky funky sounds" it is hard to take it seriously as a protest.)

10. Bourgeois Blues, Leadbelly

(The title has obviously dated, but still a great song. And D.C. hasn't gotten much more more integrated since he wrote it.)

11. 911 is a Joke, Public Enemy

(One of few songs on this list that might conceivably have produced some change.)

12. Christmas in Washington, Steve Earle

(The most recent song on this list - it's from 1997 - and it expresses nostalgia for a past era of protest instead of any sort of desire for a better future. This is either indicative of the floundering, uncertain state of opposition in this country, or a sign that I am out of touch with what's going on today and have gotten musically as well as politically complacent. In either case, an immensely sad song.)

13. It's Expected I'm Gone, the Minutemen

(I'm not sure how great this song really is, but it is the world's most defiantly pessimistic. The best line: "No hope. See, that's what gives me guts." The next line -- "big fucking shit" -- is not quite so impressive.)

14. Vampire Blues, Neil Young

(The protest is pretty oblique; it's about oil price gouging, but the lyrics drift around the topic. It does contain perhaps my favorite Neil Young verse:

Good times are coming
I hear it everywhere I go
Good times are coming
But they're sure coming slow)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

RE: 10 Worst Movie Gerund Titles

I haven't been on here in a while so bear with me as I comment on an older posting concerning the "10 Worst Movie Gerund Titles". I realize this is not a list, but I wondered if Matt K would provide a little clarification to his post (other comments are certainly welcome)...
Was the implication in #10 that "Being John Malkovich" was also worthy of placement in the list as a bad title? I ask because I cannot think of a title that would have been more appropriate for that film. The others, especially #'s 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8, could easily have been improved upon, #1 perhaps most (Really, who's doing what in that title?) But what else would you have called "Being John Malkovich"? The other titles read like tailer sound bytes summarizing the conflict that has to be overcome/experienced/etc and were probably thrown out at the pitch meeting, but "Malkovich" isn't about anything except being John Malkovich--there's nothing figurative, no double entendre. It would be like remaking "Elizabeth" with the camera's view representing that of the queen. Wouldn't it be fitting for such a film to be called the obvious? It almost seems like the title of "Malkovich" is purposely invoking the other films on your list so it can then play against their duplicity by being straight forward in its delivery.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ten (Top? Who could say?) Rhymes in My iTunes and in My Head

Inspired by Akshay's comment regarding drinking and driving, I thought first of Wilco and second of other rhymes I like, which I determined to be good fodder for my first crack at 'Wigging out.' Apologies for errors. The transcriptions are the work of my ear, memory, and the Internet, imperfect sources all.

Performed by
Song (Album)

10. Wilco
Passenger Side (A.M)
You're gonna make me spill my beer
if you don't learn how to steer.
See above.

9. Chuck Prophet
Run Primo Run (No Other Love)
Primo snorted up his name like he does every year
on the day he came into this world. It makes him feel like Richard Gere.
I don't really like the song, but I have to credit the appearance of Richard Gere.

8. Frank Sinatra
I Get a Kick Out of You (??)
Flying too high with some gal in the sky
is my idea of nothing to do.
. . . and internal rhyme takes the stage! It gets even better if "gal" becomes "guy."

7. Bobby Darin
Clementine (Greatest Hits)
took the foot bridge, way 'cross the water
though she weighed two-ninety nine.
The old bridge trembled and disassembled—
Oops!—dumped her into the foamy brine.
A re-write in which Clementine becomes "chubby Clementine." Extra points for being totally offensive and ridiculous.

6. A tie! Outkast
Hey Ya! (The Love Below)
Why, oh why, oh why, oh,
are we so in denial . . .

Happy Valentine's Day (The Love Below)
Never know because, sh[oo]t, I never tell her.
Ask me about my feelings I’d holla that it’s irrela'.
I don't get myself caught up in the Jello gella' . . .

Roses (The Love Below)
Caroline! See she's the reason for the word "bitch."
I hope she's . . .
and crash, crash, crash into a ditch.
Near rhymes are my favorite, and oh! the delivery on the last one.

5. Langhorne Slim
Drowning (Langhorne Slim w/ Charles Butler)
Here comes the lifeguard.
I'm drowning and she seems so delicious.
I'm grounded with her arms around me,
and I'm blinded by them ugly fishes.
If you don't know Langhorne, you should. He screams real high and wears a hat.

4. Mose Allison
Top Forty (??)
No more philosophic melancholia—
800 pounds of electric genitalia.
What Mose can look forward to when he makes his "big beat, top-forty, rock'n'roll record."

3. Tom Waits
The One the Got Away (Small Change)
And the shroud-tailor measures him for a deep-six holiday.
The stiff is froze, the case is closed, on the one that got away.
This entire song deserves consideration for this list.

2. Joanna Newsom
Emily (Ys)
That the meteorite is a source of the light,
and the meteor's just what we see.
And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee.

And the meteorite's just what causes the light,
and the meteor's how it's perceived.
And the meteoroid's a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee
Even though she astronomically confuses meteorites for meteoroids, who can argue that this isn't genius?

1. Tom Waits
Step Right Up (Small Change)
It's sanitized for your protection; it gives you an erection; it wins the election.
Mr. Waits at his best.

Top 5 TV Sit-Coms

5. Green Acres
4. The Dick Van Dyke Show
2. MASH and All in the Family (tie)
1. Seinfeld

Top 5 Westerns

5. Silverado (1985) - This Lawrence Kasdan written and directed film boasts an all star cast and helped to reinvigorate interest in the genre.
4. Unforgiven (1992) - Clint Eastwood shows he learned a thing or two about film making from starring in all those spaghetti westerns.
3. True Grit (1969) - John Wayne won his Oscar for this one; probably not his best film, but a good western.
2. Shane (1953) - A great telling of the classic lone drifter story.
1. High Noon (1952) - Gary Cooper, Grace Kelley, and the story of a man determined to do the right thing despite the odds and being abandoned by the people he thought were his friends...just a great movie.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Favorite Readable Works of Post-Classical Philosophy

1. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume

(This book is amazing. I've read it three times while never making a dent in the more famous Treatise Concerning Human Nature.)

2. On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill

(Also wonderful is Mill's autobiography, although I've never been able to get through Utilitarianism or any of his other books.)

3. The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James

(Again, much more approachable than either Pragmatism or Principles of Philosophy. I also recommend the Talks to Teachers and Students.)

4. The World as Will and Idea, by Schopenhauer

(I've actually only read the abridged edition from Will Durant. So there goes my credibility.)

5. Unto This Last, by John Ruskin

(Beloved of Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Proust! Now famous largely for being terrified of his wife's naked body and refusing to have sex with her. Bizarre proclivities aside, I like Ruskin a lot. I think people will start reading him again one of these days.)

6. The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz

(So good, especially the central chapters about individual artists.)

7. The Need for Roots, by Simone Weil

(Like Ruskin, her books are -- to modern eyes -- equal parts silly and profound, but they stay with you more than any number of works by more reasonable people.)

8. Walden, by Thoreau

(Low on the list because Thoreau is an infuriating writer. It is impossible to pin him down to any position at all. But he succeeds beautifully on the sentence level while failing, continually, as a communicator of ideas.)

9. Freedom and Beyond, by John Holt

(Out of print for decades, but easy to find in good libraries and very worthwhile.)

10. Four Essays on Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin

(I find his least philosophically "important" essays the most interesting, cf. the biographical sketch of Mill and the one on the birth of Greek individualism, collected in the big volume called Liberty.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Desert Island Movies

These aren't the best movies I've ever seen, exactly, just the ones that I feel like I could go on watching for a very long time. In no particular order:

1. Punch-Drunk Love, by P.T. Anderson
2. McCabe & Mrs. Miller, by Robert Altman
3. Afterlife, by Hirozaku Kore-eda
4. The Diary of a Country Priest, by Robert Bresson
5. Bottle Rocket, by Wes Anderson
6. You Can Count on Me, by Kenneth Lonergan
7. City Lights, by Charlie Chaplin
8. The Big Lebowski, by Joel & Ethan Coen
9. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, by Tim Burton
10. The Jungle Book, by Wolfgang Reitherman

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

10 Worst Movie Gerund Titles

As I hinted in a previous post, I hate titles that begin with gerunds. They're slick but inelegant, 'contemporary' but banal, and they force a kind of spurious intimacy on their audience -- hey, you, just glancing at this movie poster, you don't know it but you're already involved in this vapid plot -- you're already "Saving Silverman" or "Walking Tall." Ugh.

Of course, there are gerund titles for all different kinds of art, from classic literature ("Loving") to crap music ("Throwing Copper"). The gerund phenomenon is only an epidemic, however, in Hollywood. Here are the 10 worst titles, largely (but not entirely) irrespective of the quality of film:

10. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway. This 1993 old-person movie -- which, strangely enough, I've actually seen -- is the most egregious of the 'Gerund + Famous Person' genre, which also includes Searching For Bobby Fischer and Being John Malkovich.

9. Waking Ned Devine. Old-people movies are apparently gerund-friendly. The worst of the 'Gerund + Random Full Name' genre. Beats out Kissing Jessica Stein and the projected 2008 Judd Apatow release, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Who the fuck is Ned Devine, and why should I care?

8. Saving Private Ryan. Say a word for perhaps the biggest-ever of the Hollywood gerund titles. Both the overblown praise and the unfair criticism of this film tends to neglect its awful title. I actually think its banality taints the overall work of art (which I respect) in a small but still meaningful way.

7. Pushing Tin. Surely the first and last time air-traffic controller jargon makes it into the title of a major studio picture.

6. Leaving Normal. OK, OK, so it didn't make much of an impact at the box office, or anywhere in pop culture, really. But it was still a studio pic made by Edward Zwick, and you tell me if it doesn't manage to pack about six Hollywood cliches into those four syllables. (Yeah, you guessed right -- "Normal" is also "Normal, Wyoming.")

5. Riding In Cars With Boys. Such ghastliness should speak for itself. The first of these clunkers not released in the '90s -- truly the Age of the Gerund.

4. Finding Forrester. Hollywood really likes to help filmgoers "find" things: Graceland, Neverland, Nemo. It's hard to imagine a more disappointing find than Sean Connery doing a preposterous J.D. Salinger impression in this painful Good Will Hunting reprise.

3. Being Human. The grandaddy of gerunds. We've been forced to be There, Julia, John Malkovich, and countless other people, places, and states of mind. But the tie goes to a movie whose central premise has Robin Williams playing a single human soul over the course of all human history, including stints as a caveman, an ancient Roman slave, and a 16th C Portuguese nobleman.

2. Feeling Minnesota. 1996. Keanu Reeves. Cameron Diaz. Courtney Love. Ugliest 'Gerund + Random Place' title. I might have to see this.

1. Regarding Henry. I guess you could quibble with the purity of the gerund use here; I think "regarding" functions more as a preposition than as a verb-noun. But I'd say that just shows the flexibility of gerund awfulness. Maybe you have to know that the movie is about Harrison Ford's brain-injury-induced transformation from obnoxious lawyer to deep-souled human innocent. But is there a more sickly smug, more emptily mawkish film title in the universe than "Regarding Henry"? I hope not. It fits the movie perfectly.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Top Ten Movies of the 1990s

I think these folks had the last word on this topic.