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Month: March 2005

Phantom limb

If you are a mad Aimee Mann fan like myself, you will want to know two things: first, that she has made a concept album and it is available for pre-order beginning March 9th for delivery beginning May 3rd. March 9th is tomorrow, not today, no matter how often I check the date on my computer. Second, the first three songs on the album are available for streaming on her website.

“Dear John” is much like an Aimee Mann song, but it has more aggressive rock tendencies than most of her recent output. “King of the Jailhouse” is slower, near to lugubrious, very orchestrated. “Goodbye Caroline” is driven by a fairly meaty rhythm section, with drugs — and the guitar has a bit of fuzz to it, which is nice. I’m cautiously optimistic for the entire album, which is I suppose the intention of such a preview. I think she’s been in a bit of a rut lately, and I miss the sparse distortion of I’m With Stupid. The Forgotten Arm isn’t a return to that, but it’s also not placid. Is it May 3rd yet?

Not saying it well, mind you

With the arrival of the Doctor Demento Show Archive, I can now point to show #91-19, from May 12th, 1991. The number one song on the Doctor Demento Funny Five that day was “Give Peaks A Chance,” from DJ Glazed Donut and The Knotted Cherry Stems. “Give Peaks A Chance” was on the Funny Five for four weeks straight, beginning the week after it was played for the first time. It was #12 on the year-end rankings.

This has meaning to me because I’m one of The Knotted Cherry Stems. The song was recorded back when I was living in Iowa City; a bunch of us were serious Twin Peaks fans, and were very unhappy about the show being cancelled. We all joined the Committee for Opposing the Offing of Peaks and made as much noise as we could. I dunno if we helped, but the show did get renewed for another season or so after all, which made us happy. Also, the show sent out Harry Goaz (Deputy Andy), Frank Silva (Killer Bob), and a publicist for a visit. In retrospect I notice that they didn’t send us any of the actual professional actors on the show, but both Harry and Frank were very cool and fun to talk to. I got to drive everyone around a lot.

You can retrieve an MP3 of show #91-19 here; our song starts about 6:15 into the MP3 of the show’s final segment. You’ll need to register to get download access. I’m part of the chorus, plus I also sing “James Hurley on his hog” in the third verse.

Loose in his skin

In Good Company is not actually a comedy. Easy to be fooled, considering that it was marketed as one. Really, though, it’s a light drama about a hotshot young executive who’s risen too quickly for his own good. I wouldn’t represent it as deep, or anything, but it’s charming and — here and there — touching.

There’s a kind of division of responsibility going on. Topher Grace is the guy who gets character development; he’s the wunderkind who becomes Dennis Quaid’s boss when Sports America is purchased by a big megacorp. He gets to find out what it means to be an adult. Dennis Quaid is the guy who gets to act, which perhaps was not the intention of the director, but he does have the harder job. Topher is supposed to be callow, a bit shallow, and he spends a lot of the movie putting on a game face despite being terrified. The plot falls apart if Dennis Quaid can’t be angry at Topher while coming to care about him. Fortunately, Quaid turns in one of those excellent worn performances he’s capable of doing when he puts his mind to it, and thus grounds the film.

Topher is, mind you, pretty good. He hasn’t quite gotten the trick of shaking the mannerisms he uses in That 70’s Show, but they work well in this context and he can act his way out of a paper bag or two. I feel obliged to note his uncanny resemblance to a young Kyle MacLachlan while I’m at it. He could walk right into Twin Peaks and pick up the role without, I think, missing a beat.

Also, there’s Scarlett Johansson, who plays the same luminous unattainable that she played in The Man Who Wasn’t There, Girl With A Pearl Earring, and Lost in Translation. This is sort of a complaint on my part, but on the other hand, she’s really good at it.

On the whole I liked it. It had generally good acting. It had Philip Baker Hall, always a plus. It told a story without being overly sentimental; it had the courage to reject the romantic comedy tropes. If you were so inclined, you could watch first this, then Lost in Translation, and very easily pretend that the one was the sequel to the other — Paul Weitz is not as melancholy a director as Sofia Coppola, and he wasn’t making an indie flick here, but he’s drawing on the same material.

Although there are differences in philosophy. The most unexpected thing about In Good Company, for me, was that it declines the opportunity to take a general stance against corporations and men in suits. You might expect Dennis Quaid, who’s been working for Sports America for decades, to wind up taking a daring stance as the scales fall from his eyes and he realizes the evils of working in sales. You’d be wrong. What he says is that you should do what you love, and that you should do what you believe in. He happens to believe in sales.

It’s not as if the burdens of responsibility are a fresh new theme in Hollywood movies. Quite possibly I’m simply charmed because it’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that addresses them in the corporate context without irony. Welcome, the new sincerity! But — despite my own irony — I enjoyed it.

One final critique. Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” has now been used on two motion picture soundtracks, In Good Company and Vanilla Sky. It’s already cliched, and nobody should ever use it again.


Day 34: Still no government in Iraq. The problem remains the same as it was the day after the election results were announced; the United Iraqi Alliance doesn’t have a 2/3rds majority by itself, the Kurds aren’t willing to form a coalition unless they get Kirkuk, and Allawi’s faction isn’t big enough to form a majority with the Kurds.

Allawi has been pressuring the UIA in an effort to pull away enough votes to get a majority. Sistani, who backs the UIA, is lobbying against that and will probably succeed in holding the line. The Kurds are claiming their issue is with the possibility of an Islamic state; this is a problem for them but Kirkuk is really the key bargaining point.

The problem is that once a Prime Minister is selected, he or she has the ability to run the country without the coalition if he has a simple 50% majority. Thus, there’s no good way for the UIA to guarantee anything to the Kurds if the Kurds don’t trust them. The UIA has a 50% majority; a Prime Minister from the UIA could rule without Kurdish help once the Kurds has voted him in.

In any case, the Parliament is meeting in 10 days, with or without a coalition. Should be interesting to see what happens.

Black robed God

On the other hand, Scalia’s further comments on the display of the Ten Commandments are wrongheaded. His appeal to majority opinion is not only Constitutionally unsound — there is no question that the Constitution establishes the country and the laws thereof based upon the consent of the governed, and a strict constructionalist should not assert that the Constitution and our laws are derived from God — but poorly argued. He says “The minority should be tolerant of the majority expressing its belief that this government comes from God.” Perhaps so, but the government is not an instrument to express majority views. The majority of the country voted Republican in this last election; that does not mean the government is empowered to place displays extolling the virtues of the Republican Party in courthouses.

And it surprises me, really, that such a profoundly intelligent man could be so casual about ignorance: “probably 90 percent of the American people believe in the Ten Commandments and 85 percent couldn’t tell you what the ten are.” But perhaps it’s contempt for the groundlings.

Overturning tables

Helpful hint to the legions of Democratic strategists who read this (I hear I’ve got a huge following in — no, wait, that was my stomach rumbling):

When Scalia says that there’s no material difference between legislative proclamations invoking God’s name and putting up the Ten Commandments, he’s (intentionally or not) setting up a trap. He’s absolutely correct, too. I’ve written about this before; Cambridge City Hall has a keystone which explains that the Commandments are the source of the law and which is just as religious as anything Roy Moore did.

So if you say “Yes, thus those legislative proclamations should be banned as well,” you wind up pissing off people who are serious about their Christianity. Should they be pissed off? Enh, it’s a fruitless argument. What is true is that they will be, and once again the Democrats wind up getting framed as the anti-religion party.

On the other hand, if we instead say “There’s nothing wrong with paying our respects to religion in the public space,” and start lobbying for Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist images and writings to go side by side with the expressions of Christian religion — you still piss some people off, but you put those people in the position of having to be the ones who say “No.” Nobody likes a nay-sayer. “Geeze, buddy, you got something against Buddhist pacifists?”

Heck, start smaller. I think that Roy Moore used the Catholic Ten Commandments, but that seems a little biased. I think if we’re going to put the Ten Commandments up, we should try to put up multiple versions. Hopefully we can respect Catholics as much as we respect Protestants.

I don’t mean any of this ironically. I don’t think a little religion in a public space is a bad thing. I think that religion in the service of greed and personal power is a bad thing, and it’s important to figure out what it is we’re worried about before running off and protesting everything.