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Archive for April, 2013
Comedy #9: “The Commitments” (1991)
For all of his success, Alan Parker is still underrated as a director. Here is a guy who went directly from working with a young Jodie Foster in the strange all-children gangster musical “Bugsy Malone” to the infamous Turkish prison movie “Midnight Express,” and back to musicals with “Fame.” In “Shoot the Moon” he did possibly the best — that is to say painful, bleak and hopeless — film ever about divorce, and took on the unenviable task of plumbing the psychological depths of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and turning it into a real opera.
Almost as notorious as “Midnight Express” was his film noir/gothic horror mashup “Angel Heart,” — one of the few movies I ever went to see twice in the theater in the same week — with Robert DeNiro in one of his most effective roles, and a blood-soaked Lisa Bonet going all out in an attempt to break away from her Bill Cosby good girl image.
Alan Parker’s best film however (and another we went to see twice in the same week) was his paean to soul music, “The Commitments.” Set in Ireland, it follows a dozen Dubliners in their doomed attempt to launch a band. Heartfelt, eminently quotable and fooking hilarious, with a cast of talented unknowns and a kick-ass soundtrack, “The Commitments” actually had us dancing in the aisle of the movie theater.
“The Cabin in the Woods” — Richard Laymon (2002)
I was never much for H.P. Lovecraft’s actual stories, though I certainly appreciated his literary and pulp cultural importance. What he inspired though, through generations of writers and filmmakers, artists and game designers, is unquestionably entertaining, and often scary as hell — when it isn’t super cuddly.
Such was “The Children of Cthulhu,” a book that literally fell into my lap one day at work (after an editor tossed it there) and was quickly devoured over the next few nights. A collection of short stories inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos, it’s a killer read, especially “The Cabin in the Woods” by Richard Laymon, which is full of Lovecraftian dread and unexplained horror. (While it had nothing to do with recent movie of the same name, its monsters would have fit right in with Joss Whedon’s send-up of the horror genre.)
In an homage to Lovecraft, Laymon crafts a story set in the 1920s, as a young married couple and a brother-in-law who fancies himself cut in the manly Hemingway mold head off to a remote hunting cabin with a mysterious pedigree — and several headless bodies. Needless to say, their weekend doesn’t go as planned.
Tragically, Richard Laymon actually died shortly before this collection came out, marking “Cabin” as one of the last things he wrote.
Album #41: Adam & the Ants — “Kings of the Wild Frontier” (1980)
Others peg 14 as the ‘magic age‘ when your cultural tastes are formed, many of which will last a lifetime. If this is the case, there are two friends from that time I have to thank, for good or for ill, for providing the two halves of my pop music mold.
Rick Caldwell showed me there was far more to Queen than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and lent us his many Led Zeppelin albums, as well as Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and anything else with a Frank Frazetta painting on the cover. On the other side was Monty Link, who covered all things punk and new wave — The Cars, The Clash, The Sex Pistols (it was Monty, the consummate Preacher’s Kid, who would show up at church Youth Fellowship weekends spitting out “I am an antichrist!/I am an anarchist!”) — and eventually the pounding drums of Adam and the Ants. In fact, I found it very hard to return the copy of “Kings of the Wild Frontier” I’d borrowed from Monty, but not before it’s ‘Burundi Beat’ was forever burned into my skull:
While Adam Ant’s glam-pirate shtick and overly-sexed posturing eventually grew thin, there was still something intoxicating about his early theatrics. And those drums! (It would be decades before I was aware of the controversy over the drums of the Burundi Beat, a sound lifted without attribution from tribal recordings in Africa. As pointed out on this segment of Sound Opinions, in an interview with those African tribesman years after their music was cribbed by several bands, they declared they hated what Adam and the Ants had done with the sound — but thought Bow Wow Wow‘s take was great.)
Still, this was then, and back then it was those drums, and songs like “Dog Eat Dog” and “Feed Me to Lions,” that connected with a buffeted and awkward adolescent trying to orient himself and navigate the halls of high school where Foreigner, Styx and Rush ruled.
Song #1: “Party All The Time” — Eddie Murphy
Hey all, sorry, I’m running out of time and don’t have it in me to list the other 40 songs in my Top 50 list. Rather than make you wait, I’m just going to jump ahead and reveal the No. 1 hit. It’s a tough call, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging. So do your best Casey Kasem imitation as you read this: my favorite song of all time.
Most people thought it was a huge mistake when Eddie Murphy announced he was quitting comedy to become a rock star. The comedienne had the last laugh though when he hired Rick James Bitch to produce what became his number one hit, “Party All the Time.” This club smash came out in a point in my life when I was very vulnerable, after my last grilfriend had broken up with me, and gave me the fortitude to dance down the dorm hallway with nothing but a towel on my head. It was intoxicating, like a zen koan, but on drugs. I still sing it everyday in the shower to start my morning, and you no doubt will find it stuck in your head all day today. You’re welcome, and thanks for listening.