Sunday, May 19, 2013
Friday, February 22, 2013
Primero, Segundo, Tercero, Cuarto, Quinto, and… and… Sixto, ahhhh… And the sixth time was a charm (not that the first five weren’t), and Sixto Diaz (Jesus) Rodriguez came into this world on July 10, 1942, the sixth son of Mexican immigrants working in war-time Detroit, more than three years before atomic bombs would fall on Japan and twenty-five years before rockets would land men on the moon. No one would have predicted that his life would have been easy, but no one would have predicted that it would turn out like it did, either. It all started with his love of music and song and… words full of meaning. In case you don’t know the story yet—though you likely will soon if all goes well at the Oscars Sunday night---it goes something like this: in 1967 he released his first single “I’ll Slip Away” on a small label, to general neglect, and in 1970 and 1971 he released two killer albums, “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality,” on a larger label, also to general neglect. He was immediately dropped from the label, of course, and so he discontinued his musical career in favor of jobs generally revolving around the related acts of construction and demolition. But an Australian company picked up the rights to his work because his stuff was selling a bit there. He even toured Oz in 1979 and 1981 with Midnight Oil. And that was that. He remained philosophical, of course, so in 1981 he got a BA in philosophy; so did I.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
It’s horrible, of course, the war currently going on in Mali, the desecration of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, and the disruption of lives in a place where life doesn’t allow much margin for error. Maybe the most ironic aspect of it all is that Mali has been able to cast itself so successfully in the last twenty years as the capital of world music, starting with Ali Farka Toure’ and including dozens of regional stars in its roll-call before making Ali’s son Vieux its latest luminary. The griot and djeli traditions go back much farther than that, of course, which is about all that can be reliably said on the history of the subject. Urban legends of Tuareg revolutionaries turning in their guns for guitars may be more or less accurate, if generously embellished for marketing purposes, but the claim of being able to trace American blues or jazz back to a single village in Mali is probably an over-simplification, if not necessarily false, given only anecdotal evidence and no clear genetic links.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Traveling through space is geography. Traveling through time is history. I just finished reading the Travels of Marco Polo and Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux simultaneously; okay, actually I was alternating between them. As fate would have it, they’re traveling somewhat the same route, at least part of the way. No I didn’t plan it that way. If I had, then it wouldn’t be serendipity. I like that word, and I like the meaning behind it, the happy accident; the brilliant mistake. It’s not a race, because I already know who’d win. Slow as they are, trains are fast compared to caravan travel on the Silk Road, or even the open seas, which was the only option in Marco Polo’s time. But as long as every picture tells a story, then overland travel is eminently worthwhile. Once they’re known and renowned, then even the most impressive trail among them can become boring.
The strangest thing is not that Polo’s observations seem so dated, though, as you would expect from travels that occurred some 750 years ago. No, the strange thing is how dated Theroux’s observations seem. Those observations are barely forty years old, and occurred in an era that I know well, the same one that gave birth to my own significant travels. In fact if I had to place them within a historical continuum between Polo’s era and this date of January 2012, then I’d place them about half-way, which is to say that almost as much has happened within the last forty years as in the seven hundred which preceded it. If that s
Monday, October 08, 2012
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. We make love to our iPhones and our egos, while begrudging food for the poor and health care for the indigent. I don’t know whether to disclose or disguise my disgust and disdain for the America of 2012: an America whose obstructionist Congress of hicks and rednecks, flat-earthers and holy-rollers, have wasted two years of our lives treating our kindest and wisest President worse than the shoeshine boy that they obviously wish he were; an America so engorged on violence and inured to it that the cause isn’t even discussed anymore, merely whether we prefer homicide or suicide; an America so dumbed down that it prefers its arts and entertainment in the form of reality TV, and its presidential elections, too. No, I can’t decide whether to disclose or disguise my disgust and disdain. Both paths have their perils. If I disclose my disgust, then I’m unpatriotic. If I disguise it, then I’m dishonest. So I look for others to do it for me.
So where was Bobcat Goldthwait’s “God Bless America” in the 2012 Oscar lineup? It’s nowhere to be found, nor would you be likely to have found it in a theater near you. Ah, but that must be because its director is a washed-up stand-up whose best work was long ago, so he must be a hack director by definition. Wrong again. This is Goldthwait’s third major (independent) feature, including the critically acclaimed “World’s Greatest Dad” with Robin Williams and the movie “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” which preceded it. However independent he might be, though, and however proud of it, still every filmmaker’s goal is not only to create good work, but to have others see it and appreciate it, and “get it” in the way it’s supposed to be gotten. Yeah, you gotta’ have that, too, and you’d think GBA would’ve gotten some notice for the sheer amount of violence in it. After all, even Bob Dole and other politicos chimed in on “Natural Born Killers” way back when, didn’t they? Ah, but that was a different era, wasn’t it?
“God Bless America” is about the trials and tribulations of Frank, a loser who’s just lost his job, just found out he’s got brain cancer, been soundly rejected by his own daughter, and, worst of all it seems, is being subjected to a barrage of idiots, a**holes, and reality TV stars that overwhelm what little sense of sanity he has left. Those are just the symptoms of the underlying problem, though, which is that people are just rude nowadays, and for no apparent reason, as if our civilization and religion and social niceties have all come to nought. "Why have civilization if we no longer are interested in being civilized?" he asks; me, too. So what does he do? He does what we’ve all thought of doing at least in our worst nightmares. He starts killing people, choosing them on the basis of the degree to which they annoy him. In this he is joined by an adoring admirer, a teenage female misfit named Roxanne, who more or less agrees with the annoying nature of modern civilization and is looking for other outlets than the collected works of Alice Cooper and transcendant power ballads such as “Only Women Bleed.” Hey, you gotta have heroes.
So they don appropriate couture for the task ahead and proceed to start wasting people, right and left, mostly by gun, sometimes by knife or cord, as if each person were merely a ridiculous word balloon waiting to be popped, another over-puffed ego deflated, another bad joke tossed in the can. Frank isn’t immoral, though, quite the opposite, and any love interest with his teenage partner is strictly kept in check. He won’t even attempt to get his finger wet in his desire for Roxanne, who he obviously loves more by now than anything in this world, and who is at the same time a surrogate wife and daughter. No, he sticks to the business at hand, which is to rid the world of pompous asses and poseurs, a jihad of the soul, a jihad of sorts. This all changes when he finds out that he doesn’t really have brain cancer, and that Roxanne is not really an abused child, as she had told him. Not only that, but the most famous reality TV star of all, adored simply because he is the most hideous, didn’t attempt suicide because they were laughing at him; he attempted suicide because they tried to cancel him. You can guess the rest. It’s a shootout at the not-so-OK-corral. Fortunately, Roxanne is back at his side by then, so they get to waste quite a few before they themselves are wasted. Joe Bob Briggs must have had a field day. I don’t know why the cops never showed up before this.
But the movie is not so much violent, as it is about violence, the violence within us and without us, that and an unhealthy handful of other ungodly traits that define the age in which we live. Maybe that’s the difference in the “Natural Born Killers” that author Tarantino wanted to make and the one that Oliver Stone actually did make, and which they famously fought over; but I doubt it. Goldthwait has done something here which I prize most in my favorite artists and authors. He has put something very heavy in a light easily digestible format. This is not disgusting blood-and-guts violence. This is meta-violence, conceptual violence, violence of the palette. I for one can certainly appreciate it, not only for the reason that I am not alone in my disgust of most things 2012 American, but for a day, at least a day, I can let someone else do the heavy lifting, while I sit back and pontificate, nodding slightly and thinking, ‘see, I told you so.’
I have only one complaint about “God Bless America,” and that’s that there are not enough low camera angles in the world to make The Music Box (Fonda Theatre, whatever) on Hollywood Boulevard look big enough to host an American Idol-like major TV show. But I only know that because I pass by there often to get my little cup of black meat as part of Trader Joe’s™ free caffeine-maintenance program. I even passed by there yesterday because my wife forgot to take her little Tupperware™ bowl of rice to work. Hey, you gotta’ have rice. But I have nothing but admiration for the high concept of the film. We’re killing ourselves, mass suicide of the species by the species, the first apocalypse ever televised. We’re driving off a cliff, guns all ablaze, grinning like Cheshires, with no bottom in sight. After all, would there be any unemployment, hunger, epidemic or war if we all grew our own food and made our own clothes and shared the fruits of our arts and labors willingly and openly with each other and with respect for the Creation of which we are all a part? No, I don’t think so. That’s “God Bless America,” starring Joe Murray and Tara Lynne Barr, available now at a Netflix website near you. Check it out.