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Mar42020

My Top 5 Movies of 2019: Last Black Man Of, Apollo 11, Booksmart and Others…

Did this last year. These are the 5 best movies I saw in 2019. Doesn’t mean they came out in 2019. Just means that’s when I got to see them for the first time. David Dylan Thomas is much better at this than me so I borrowed the layout from him.  Movie names will link to their profiles on Just Watch so you know where to see them.

In reverse order:

5. Last Black Man in San Francisco

Almost a visual poem to a city and two residents/best friends who no longer feel like they belong there. Beautiful in the way Moonlight is beautiful (2019).

4. Apollo 11

Not one extra foot of film was shot for this minute-by-minute documentary to commemorate the 50th anniverary of the 1969 moon landing. Meaning everything was reconstructed from existing NASA footage, so tangible and real you feel like it happened yesterday. And you were there (2019).

3. Half the Picture

Documentary on why so few movies are directed by women puts the lie immediately to any excuse dreamed up by studios or the resident misogynist in your life. Will also remind you how many of your favorite movies weren’t made by bearded white dudes in baseball caps (2018).

2. Booksmart

The John Hughes movie the 21st century deserves: kids of all shapes, sizes, races and gender doing hilarious teenage shit. Olivia Wilde, the actress turned director, has done an amazing first-timers job here (2019).

1. Leave No Trace

If you want to know where and why America is where it is in 2020, this tale of a wounded war veteran and his estranged daughter will show you with beauty, sadness and power (2018)

Honorable Mention: Support the Girls is the best movie ever made about one day inside a Hooters, a huge compliment. Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a moving photo essay of moments in a southern town that will take your breath away.

Mar32020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: A Farewell to Kings

 

"A Farewell to Kings" -- RUSH

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, who died on Jan 7th at age 67. Next up…

Album Name: A Farewell to Kings

Released: September 1977

Rush’s fifth studio album is the second of their golden prog-rock period where side-length sci-fi tales of ridiculousness were coin of the realm. Many vintage RUSH fans love this stuff but it is not for me. Therefore, it will surprise no one that Mr. Peart’s contributions I zero in on here and continue to appreciate most all these years later, are on shorter, more approachable material.

Best Drums: “A Farewell to Kings”

Often overlooked, I think, due to its sonic similarity to “2112,” the band’s preceding album, what begins as a woodsy British folk ballad soars to the heights of a classical opera, mostly thanks to a wash of keyboards. But what would sound metallic and thin is made magisterial by the sober throb of Neil Peart’s drums. It’s foundational rhythm at its quiet best.

Best lyrics: “Closer to the Heart”

Possibly Peart’s finest composition, an open-chested plea for tolerance, peace and a new way of living from a famously shy and quiet man.

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart
Closer to the Heart

The Blacksmith and the Artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the Heart
Yea, Closer to the Heart

Philosophers and Plowmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart
Closer to the Heart

 

Feb62020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: 2112

"2112" -- Rush

So I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67.

Next Up:

Album Name: 2112

Released: April 1976

Rush’s forth studio album 2112 is a gloriously silly space opera that somehow manages to justify its excesses. Unlike its predecessor Caress of Steel its 973 minute opening takes us briskly into the rest of the album AND stands on its own instead of collapsing in on its own weight. Even though it’s hard to look at in plainly in retrospect (its the band’s breakthrough record and arguably them at their best. It’s human nature to muddle the two).

For the record, it is not my favorite incarnation of Rush and not why I signed on 35 years ago. I was barely in a full set of clothes in 1976 and my earliest memories of the band are when they’d left this stuff far behind. Still, I admire their nerve here as a young band and how well these epic pieces hold up live if not in fashion but in repeat performance.

Best drumming: That overture is mostly keyboard -driven but the drums sure buttress it nicely

Best lyrics:

Though it is simply about drug culture, “A Passage to Bangkok” paints a coked-out tableau with great wit and punnery.

“Our first stop is in Bogota
To check Colombian fields
The natives smile and pass along
A sample of their yield
Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams
Golden Acapulco nights
Then Morocco, and the East
Fly by morning light

 

Feb42020

Daily Links: Dan Deacon, Sundance, Harper Lee

— If you think old @giorgiomoroder film scores are Boss, you’re going to love @DanDeacon ‘s new album “Mystic Familiar”. Case in point: https://t.co/TmfqjYlBVJ

— “Sundance Names Tabitha Jackson as New Festival Chief” https://t.co/ZL5JeN2jkX (via Farai Chideya)

— “150,000 Botanical and Animal Illustrations Available for Free Download from Biodiversity Heritage Library” https://t.co/J7VlJHhhoZ

— One of the better names I have heard for a movie blog is “The Projector Has Been Drinking” https://t.co/leu0UyZClR  

— “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.” — Harper Lee (via @Belletristbooks)

 

Jan292020

Listening to all of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: Fly By Night

Rush: Fly By Night

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on January 7th at the age of 67. First up…

Album name: Fly By Night

Release Date: Feb 15, 1975

The Story: The band’s second studio album but first with Neil Peart is commonly regarded as the first album of what the band would be in the first stages of their career–hard rock, bluesy guitaring mixed with fantastical, science fiction themes and courageous (or silly) lengthy pro-rock excursions. Personally, I care for those less than RUSH acing their fundamentals: Superior musicianship and lyrics that can be indulgent and a bit juvenile at times but always contain brilliant turns of phrase and are never dull.

The title track Peart wrote about his failed 18 months living abroad, trying to crack into the English music scene. “Beneath, Between and Behind” was the first set of lyrics he ever wrote for the band

My favorite track:

“Fly By Night”

https://youtu.be/nEVDZl5UvN4

Favorite Drumming:

“Anthem” (accepting that drum solos do very little for me. I prefer drumming as a component of the song)

https://youtu.be/3oEQuzHp5I0

Favorite Lyric:

“Moon rise, thoughtful eyes
Staring back at me from the window beside
No fright, or hindsight
Leaving behind that empty feeling inside”

— Fly By Night

Jan292020

Listening to all of Rush’s Albums to honor Neil Peart: Caress of Steel

 

So I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67.

Album Name: Caress of Steel

Released: September 1975

Rush’s third studio album was considered a bomb, a claim not without merit: The first side contains some of their finest songwriting in a pair of tracks — “Bastille Day “ and “Lakeside Park”— that manage to be as grand and epic as their 12 minute outer space operas while feeling human and made of flesh rather than make of titanium and being a song you appreciate the audacity of rather than actually, eh listen to.

A bit of context here: The typical narrative of Rush is these 12 minute three movement dramas about based on JRR Tolkein and Ayn Rand are them at their best. Then around “Tom Sawyer” (1980, eight albums into their career) they got a taste of having a 3 minute hit song and never went back. In effect they “sold out” and turned their back on the nerds who supported them from the jump.

My relationship with them is just the opposite. I’ve no need for 12 minutes of something called “Cygnus Book II” because I discovered the band in their 3 minute song years of the 1980s and that’s what I fell in love with so that works for me.

Here then, side one of Caress of Steel is what they would become in another 5 years. Side two is where they were at the moment. It’s an uneasy coexistence and the album is so bottom heavy with three movement wankarama dramas that the (better) first side feels tacked on.

Ah well. I never owned this record and heard all I needed from it when I bought the Rush: Chronicles greatest compilation on something called a “CD” once upon a time. Nothing lost.

Best drumming: That opening from Bastille Day is killer:

https://youtu.be/mT1gmKUoqbY

Best lyrics:

“Midway hawkers calling “Try your luck with me”
Merry-go-round wheezing the same old melody
A thousand ten cent wonders who could ask for more
A pocketful of silver, the key to heaven’s door”

— Lakeside Park

https://youtu.be/tgeg-xadx9s

A surprisingly sweet track about an amusement park Neil Peart worked at as a teenager in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. I am always pleased when a Rush song is about people and this world we share together.

Jan272020

Books v. Movies: Not an Either/Or

Lithub alerted me to a fascinating statistic that in 2019, more Americans went to the library than to the movies.

That’s wonderful news but let’s bear in mind a few things;

1. Books are not superior to movies. There are brilliant movies and terrible books. And both are magic. Being forced to chose is a false choice no one really has. And if I had to chose between them, I’d chose a quick death by firing squad instead.

2. Going to the movies isn’t fun anymore. Movie studios are having a tough time getting people to come to theatres for all but the loudest splashiest movies. And this is not the citizenry’s fault. How often do you have a pleasant evening at the movies watching something where nothing blows up at a price point you can repeat more than say once a quarter? Unless every single person who likes going to the movies in America is a 14 year old boy, this is leaving a lot of the paying audience out in the cold. 

3. “That doesn’t mean people are reading at libraries.” This sentiment is elitist and historically wrong. Libraries since the beginning of their history have functioned as levelers between classes so the economically disadvantaged may have the same tools, resources and access to information as everyone else. Read Susan Orlean’s magisterial “The Library Book”. It turns out, the earliest public libraries loaned farm equipment, tools, livestock supplies, as well as newspapers and books. Now they also provide internet access, musical instruments, toys to kids who can’t afford them and vinyl records (hooray!)

4. The public good. Use of libraries for whatever reason equals belief in something called the public good, the commons, a nation we are all part of instead of “give me mine and screw you” they have changed so many lives for the better including mine. So have great movie theaters.

Our lives are better for both. Make them a part of yours!

Jan202020

Daily Links Special for Dr. Martin Luther King Day

 

MLK March on Washington Speech

— NPR: ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech, In Its Entirety https://t.co/kBC12Wlln0

— New Yorker: From 1965: Renata Adler reports on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. https://t.co/KevfNjsnou

— Paste Magazine: Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day With Musical Tributes From Patti Labelle, Joan Baez & many more. https://t.co/YBCTnHi8cH

“I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning house” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

Jan122020

My Annual Playlist of Songs I Heard for the First Time That Year: AKA The Smokler 50 (2019)

Welcome to my 8th annual playlist of songs I heard for the first time that year. It includes songs that are brand new to 2019, a few, but mostly those I found on my explorations of music across time, genre and medium

I cut things off on Dec. 31 with 905 songs discovered via streaming playlists, terrestrial and satellite radio, personal recommendations, research into artists I only know so well and regular visits to record stores. The total 905 is about 60 more than my usual average of 825-850 new songs per annum. I’m pegging that to the documentary film I made this year about the comeback of vinyl records which meant turning the usual stream of new music discovery into a geyser.

From there I chose 50 I feel like I could listen to endlessly without getting bored but that also remind me of my coordinates in the galaxy of music that year. I also keep an eye on diversity as you finding something new (to you) is half the point: Even if that year meant 79% listening to say celtic punk rock, that’ll still only be say 15% of the playlist.

If you listen and say “How all over the place!” or “I discovered 3 new bands! Hosannah!” I’ve done my job. If you listen and say “wow, you must really like Artist X or Genre Y” I haven’t.

Enjoy! And if you would, tell me what you find.

 

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