Monday, October 31, 2016

T.S.O.L. – "Silent Scream" (2008)

I'm the wooden mallet
The sharpened stake

A few years ago, a British auction house offered up a 19th-century vampire protection kit for sale.  

The kit included a crucifix, holy water, garlic paste, and other items that were believed to repel vampires.  It also held four wooden stakes and a wooden mallet you could use to drive one of those stakes through a vampire’s heart – a surefire method of killing it:

Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, didn’t invent vampires but his 1897 novel about the Transylvanian vampire, Count Dracula, is the granddaddy of all vampire novels.

A good friend of mine gave me the Modern Library edition of Dracula as a birthday gift when I was twelve years old or so.  I’ve always been a public library guy, and my family owned almost no books when I was growing up – it was odd for me to have my own hardbound copy of Stoker’s classic novel to read.  (I have to admit that don’t remember a thing about the plot.)

I hope you have a happy Halloween.  But I’m giving you fair warning: if you bring your kids to my house expecting me to open the door and give them some candy, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

*     *     *     *     *

T.S.O.L. (“True Sounds of Liberty”) formed in Long Beach in 1978.  The group subsequently changed personnel, broke up, and reformed.  At one point there were two bands touring simultaneously and using the same name.  Eventually three of the four original members of the group got back together.

“Silent Scream” was originally released in 1981 on T.S.O.L.’s original studio album, Dance With Me.  It is filled with Halloweenish references – including a number of references to the two most enduring horror classics,  Dracula and Frankenstein.

In 2005, the band released an anthology album titled Who's Screwin' Who?, which includes a number of songs from the band’s early albums and EPs (including their most popular song, the necrophilia-themed “Code Blue”).  But instead of just reissuing the original recordings of those songs, T.S.O.L. decided to re-record them all from scratch.

Here’s the newer recording of “Silent Scream,” which I think is better than the original:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 28, 2016

Blind Boys of Alabama – "Free at Last" (2008)

Free at last
Free at last
Thank God almighty
I’m free at last

Infinite Jest is a postmodern novel that is notable for its extravagant length (over 1000 pages) and its encyclopedic breadth and depth.  

Novels rarely include footnotes.  Infinite Jest has 388 of them, and some of them have footnotes of their own.

The book’s author, David Foster Wallace, suffered from depression for most of his adult life.  He hung himself in 2008 when he was only 46 years old.  

From his Los Angeles Times obituary:

[Wallace] was one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years . . . . one of the main writers who brought ambition, a sense of play, a joy in storytelling and an exuberant experimentalism of form back to the novel in the late '80s and early 1990s . . . . [H]e really restored the notion of the novel as a kind of canvas on which a writer can do anything.

Wallace was one of those writers I always told myself I should read someday.  But I’m a very accomplished procrastinator.

Then I saw The End of the Tour, a 2015 movie based on the conversations Wallace had with a Rolling Stone writer while on a book tour promoting Infinite Jest.  It inspired me to read two of Wallace’s nonfiction collections.  

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster consisted mostly of Wallace’s magazine articles.  Among other things, Wallace wrote about a day at the Iowa State Fair, a voyage on a large cruise ship, what a lobster feels when it is boiled alive, and what it was like to attend the Adult Video News Awards (the Oscars of the pornographic video industry).  

Most of those pieces were terrific, and reading them inspired me to tackle Infinite Jest

I downloaded the novel on to my Kindle before I got on a flight from Washington, DC to Las Vegas and read the book during that flight . . . in my hotel room while I was in Las Vegas . . . on a subsequent flight to Kansas City . . . while staying in my parents home in Joplin, Missouri . . . and on my return flight to Washington.  I continued to read it on my daily subway trips to and from my office.

David Foster Wallace
After about two weeks, I had only managed to get to page 211 out of 1079.  I couldn’t believe it.  I know I put in at least ten hours reading the book – I’m guessing I spent closer to twenty hours.

So I did something I can’t remember ever doing before: I quit reading it.

It’s no exaggeration when I say that giving up on a book in the middle is almost without precedent in my 60 years of reading.  

On occasion, I will read the first few pages of a novel and change my mind about reading it.  But I can only remember slogging through 200 pages of a book and then giving up one other time.  

That was a few years when I attempted to re-read Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Richard Fariña’s legendary counterculture novel, which I loved when I read it a few years after it was published in 1966.  But when I picked it up again four decades later, I found it to be unintelligible gibberish.

Infinite Jest wasn’t so much unintelligible as simply dense and tedious.  God knows how long it would have taken me to finish Infinite Jest – assuming I didn’t follow Wallace’s example and commit suicide before I got to the end.

Reading Infinite Jest was EXHAUSTING.  The amount of effort required to keep going through it was mind-boggling.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

And no matter how many times he has the Terminex people out, there are still the enormous roaches that come out of the bathroom drains.  Sewer roaches, according to Terminex.  Blattaria implacablus or something.  Really huge roaches.  Armored-vehicle-type bugs. . . . Orin stomped on one of them, only once, that had come hellishly up out of the drain in the shower when he was in there, showering, going out naked and putting shoes on and coming in and trying to conventionally squash it, and the result was explosive.  There’s still material from that one time in the tile-grouting.  It seems unremovable.  Sickening.  Throwing away the shoes was preferable to looking at the sole to clean it.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains of the southern reaches of the Great Concavity in what used to be Vermont, raising dust that forms a uremic-hued cloud with somatic shapes interpretable from as far away as Boston and Montreal.  The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free by a Watertown, NY boy . . . . The boy now attends college in Champaign, IL and has forgotten that his hamsters were maned Ward and June.

The noise of the herd is tornado, locomotival.   The expression on the hamsters’ whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable – it’s that implacable-herd expression.  They thunder eastward across pedal ferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded.  To the east, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly over fertilized forests of what used to be central Maine.

*     *     *     *     *

“Obesity,” she says.  “Obesity with hypogonadism.  Also morbid obesity.  Nodular leprosy with leonine facies. . . . The acromegalic and hyperkeratosistic.  The enuretic, this year of all years.  The spasmodically torticollic. . . . Those with saddle-noses.  Those with atrophic limbs. . . . Scleredema adultorum.  Them that seep, the serodermatotic. . . . The hydrocephalic.  The tabescent and chachetic and anorexic.  The Brag’s-Diseased, in their heavy red rinds of flesh.  The dermal wine-stained or carbuncular or steatocryptotic or God forbid all three.  Marin-Amat Syndrome, you say?  Come on down.  The psoriatic.  The exzematically shunned.  And the scrofulodermic.  Bell-shaped steatopygiacs, in your special slacks.”

*     *     *     *     *

The incredibly potent DMZ is apparently classed as a para-methoxylated amphetamine but really it looked to Jim Pemulis from his slow and tortured survey of’s monographs more like more similar to the anticholinergic-deliriant class, way more powerful than mescaline or MDA or DMA or TMA or MDMA or DOM or STP or the I.V.-ingestible DMT, or Ololiuqui or datura’s scopolamine, or Fluothane, or Bufotenine (a.k.a. “Jackie-O”), or Ebene or psilocybin or Cylert . . . or the fly agaric fungus’s well-known muscimole, which fitviavi’s derived DMZ resembles chemically sort of the way an F-18 resembles a Piper Cub . . .

(I could give you dozens more examples that are just as bad, but you’ve suffered enough.)

Believe it or not, many critics and academics adored Infinite Jest.  It has been called “the central American novel of the past thirty years” and “a dense star for lesser work to orbit.”  Time included it on its list of the best 100 English-language novels written since that magazine was founded in 1923.  

But there were dissenting voices as well.  One reviewer said the novel is “in a word, terrible.  Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous, and – perhaps especially – uncontrolled.”  Another critic said the book’s elements “are impressive in the manner of a precocious child’s performance at a dinner party, and, in the same way, ultimately irritating: they seem motivated, mostly, by a desire to show off.”

"Bright Lights, Big City" author Jay McInerney
Wallace’s fellow novelist, Jay McInerney, reviewed Infinite Jest in 1996.  He loved it and hated it at the same time:

Reading David Foster Wallace's latest novel, Infinite Jest, I felt . . . admiration alloyed with impatience veering toward strained credulity. . . . If Mr. Wallace were less talented, you would be inclined to shoot him – or possibly yourself – somewhere right around page 480 of Infinite Jest. In fact, you might anyway.

(McInerney is made of sterner stuff than I am.  I was ready to pull the trigger by page 211.)

Alternately tedious and effulgent, Infinite Jest . . . sometimes [feels] cartoonish in the extreme. . . .  Mr. Wallace's earlier fiction revealed him as a student of literary post-modernists like John Barth and Robert Coover, flirting with metafictional tropes and self-referential narratives.  Here, despite the Gravity's Rainbow-plus length and haute science flourishes, Mr. Wallace plays it straight – that is, almost realistically – and seems to want to convince us of the authenticity of his vision by sheer weight of accumulated detail.  The weight almost crushes the narrative at times – as when, for example, we are treated to 10 dense pages about the disassembly of a bed, complete with diagrams.

(Barth, Coover, and Thomas Pynchon were favorites of mine when I was in college.  I would have told you back then that Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow was the greatest novel ever written – today I’m afraid to re-read it, fearing that doing so would prove beyond a reasonable doubt just how full of sh*t I was when I was 21.)

The mechanics and rituals of the recovering addicts are also represented with mind-numbing fidelity. Central to this narrative is [a character who is] a recovering burglar and Demerol man, the slogging Leopold Bloom to [another main character’s] Stephen Dedalus.  

(This reference to Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus – the main characters of James Joyce’s Ulysses – sent a shiver down my spine.  There are few terrible ordeals that I would not happily undergo if the alternative was reading Ulysses from start to finish.  Any book that is compared to Ulysses is to be avoided at all costs.)

Mr. Wallace's knowledge of pharmaceuticals and the psychology of addiction is encyclopedic; if not for the copious footnotes, which among other functions annotate the dozens of narcotics and psychedelics mentioned in the book, all but the most hard-core drug enthusiasts would need a copy of the Physician's Desk Reference just to keep track of who was up or down at any given moment.

(McInerney couldn’t be righter.  Reading about fictional drug trips is almost as tedious as reading about fictional dreams.  Wallace adds insult to injury by dropping in footnote after footnote about the various pharmaceuticals his characters consume.)

What makes all this almost plausible, and often pleasurable, is Mr. Wallace's talent – as a stylist, a satirist and a mimic – as well as his erudition, which ranges from the world of street crime to higher mathematics.  While there are many uninteresting pages in this novel, there are not many uninteresting sentences. 

For me, the problem with Infinite Jest isn’t that it’s not interesting.  The problem with Infinite Jest is that it’s too damn much work to read.    

Prior to picking up Infinite Jest, I read the first two volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume, 3600-page My Struggle.  

Most of My Struggle is a simple and straightforward account of the mundane details of the author’s daily life. 

Reading it is like watching hours of home videos.  There are occasional moments of drama or humor that demand your full attention, but the rest of the time your mind can go on automatic pilot and you won’t miss much. 

By contrast, Infinite Jest is like an avant garde movie in a foreign language – there’s a lot going on at any given moment, but it’s impossible to keep up with it all.  You just want the damn thing to end so you can go home and take a nap.

The next time you find yourself in a theater where such a movie is playing, don’t wait for it to end.  Get up and go home and take that nap sooner rather than later.

That’s pretty much what I did with Infinite Jest, and I’m glad I did.  I’ll never get the hours I spent struggling with those 211 pages back, but for a change I was smart enough to cut my losses.

*     *     *     *     *

The lines quoted at the beginning of this post closed the famous “I Have a Dream” speech that was delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC, in 1963:

[W]hen we let [freedom] ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:  “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Down in New Orleans album, which was released in 2008, won the “Best Traditional Gospel Album” Grammy.  “Free at Last” was the first track on that album.

Here’s “Free at Last”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Five Americans – "Zip Code" (1967)

Zip code
Postman says it’s faster

Do you remember the days before there was such a thing as ZIP Codes?

I grew up in a small city.  The local postal workers were expected to know it well enough that they could sort the mail properly based on just the street address.  

But those who sorted mail in larger cities needed to know more than just the street address in order to handle incoming mail.  

In 1943, the U.S. Post Office assigned postal zone numbers to larger cities – for example, “New York 5, New York” or “Los Angeles 12, California.”

On July 1, 1963, the USPS revamped its mail-delivery system by introducing five-digit ZIP (“Zone Improvement Plan”) Codes that covered every mailing address in the country.  

At the same time, the USPS assigned a two-letter abbreviation to each state, which initially resulted in some confusion.  

For example, there are four states whose names begin with the letters “M” and “I” — Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Missouri.  Any one of them could have been assigned the MI code, but the honor went to Michigan.  The other three were assigned MN, MS, and MO.

MO always struck me as a rather arbitrary choice for my home state, but that abbreviation must have been in use long before 1963 because the yearbook at Joplin (Missouri) High School was called the Joplimo back in the 1940s.

In 1983, the USPS rolled out “ZIP+4,” which assigned nine digits to an address instead of just five in order to make mail sorting quicker and more efficient.

It’s hardly necessary to prove that the American legal system has lost its mind – most of us figured that out long ago.  But if you’re still not convinced of that, here’s an example of just how little common sense some courts have from

California's high court ruled [February 9, 2011] that retailers don't have the right to ask customers for their ZIP code while completing credit card transactions, saying that doing so violates a cardholders' right to protect his or her personal information. . . .

The court concluded that requesting a ZIP code is not much different than asking for a phone number or home address.

Knowing someone’s ZIP Code is NOTHING like knowing his or her phone number or home address.

(Shhhhh!  You're spoiling
it for the rest of us!)
The last time I checked, you don’t share a particular phone number or address with other people – your phone number and your mailing address are unique to your and your family. 

But you probably share your five-digit ZIP Code with thousands of other people.  After all, there are 320 million Americans sharing some 42,000 ZIP Codes — that’s an average of 7500-plus people per ZIP Code.  That doesn’t narrow it down very much, does it?

Here’s the more fundamental point.  The plaintiff could have told the retailer who asked for her ZIP Code to eat it.  (Eat it raw!)  

No retailer in its right mind is going to press a customer for his or her ZIP Code if he or she is reluctant to provide it.  If it does, it runs the risk that the customer will get p*ssed off and walk out of the store.  

You might well ask why the customer who was asked for her ZIP Code would take the case all the way to the state supreme court.

A California class-action complaint
Because the case was filed as a class action, that’s why.  In a class action, the lawyers represent not only the individual plaintiff whose name is on the complaint, but also all those who are “similarly situated” – that is, all of the thousands and thousands of California consumers who shopped at the large retail chain that was the defendant in this case.

The statute the plaintiff cited in this case provides for penalties of up to $250 per violation.  Multiply that by the number of people who used a credit card at that retailer – 10,000 customers? 25,000? 100,000? More? – and you’re talking real money.

Keep in mind that the lawyers who file class actions usually walk away with the lion’s share of any judgment or settlement, and you will understand why this case was appealed all the way to the highest court in the state.

*     *     *     *     *

“Western Union” was a top-five hit for the Five Americans – not to be confused with Jay and the Americans of “Come a Little Bit Closer” fame – in 1967.

Later that year, they released a single about a much newer method of communicating.  “Zip Code” made it into the top 40, but just barely.

In “Zip Code,” the singer has fallen for a girl who was sitting in the front row when his band performed in New York City.  He puts the appropriate ZIP Code on his letter because the USPS has promised that doing so will speed up the letter’s delivery to the girl.  

We know approximately where the girl lives because the song specifies her ZIP Code.  It’s 10036, which cover a good-sized hunk of midtown Manhattan (including Times Square and Rockefeller Center).

Here’s “Zip Code”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Joe Jackson – "Sunday Papers" (1979)

You can read it
In the Sunday papers

When I was flipping through my Sunday Washington Post last week, the headline of the obituary of retired  diplomat Joseph Verner Reed Jr. caught my eye:

Noted diplomat and protocol guru made one memorable gaffe

Reed was descended from a man who came to America on the Mayflower — in other words, he was a true New England blueblood.  

Joseph Verner Reed Jr.
After graduating  from Deerfield Academy and Yale University, he became an assistant to the chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, David Rockefeller, who later described him as “a man of elegance, grace, wit, flamboyance and razor-sharp intellect.”

President Reagan appointed Reed ambassador to Morocco in 1981.  In 1985, he became Undersecretary General of the United Nations.

 In 1989, President Bush chose Reed, who was a lifelong friend, to be his Chief of Protocol.   

Reed with President Bush and 
Soviet President Gorbachev
A Chief of Protocol’s duties include arranging for official visits from foreign heads of states, accompanying the President on trips abroad, and serving as the liaison between the American government and the foreign diplomatic corps.  

From a 1989 New York Times article about Reed:

In his Savile Row suits, monogrammed shirts, pocket handkerchief and boutonniere, the tall, slim, ruddy-faced Mr. Reed is a cross between an old-line WASP and a Parisian dandy.  He wears white flannel pants on the tennis court as Bill Tilden did.  When he donned a Yale sweater and white bermudas to jog along the Via Veneto, even jaded Italians sitting at the Cafe Doney were distracted from their afternoon aperitivi.

For more than a decade, Mr. Reed has been handing out custom-made ballpoint pens engraved with his name, title and the American flag to everyone he meets.  He signs off his telephone conversations and handwritten notes with ''Aloha,'' because, he says: ''It is the only word in the English language that means, 'Hello, goodbye, I like you, and come again.''

Reed at the United Nations
He likes to drive guests around the family farm in a golf cart, showing off his rare botanical collection that he amassed with Mimi, his wife of 30 years.  It includes a Chinese scholar tree from the arboretum of Deng Xiaoping. . . .

In Mr. Reed's four years at the United Nations, he earned the nickname “Cuffs” for the way he discreetly shoots his cuffs so they properly frame his jacket sleeves.  The nickname stuck despite two burglaries from his suite at the Carlyle Hotel that deprived him of his $55,000 collection of cufflinks, studs and pocket watch. 

In other words, they don’t make them like Joe Reed any more.

So what was the “memorable gaffe” that the Washington Post headline writer chose to zero in on?

Queen Elizabeth – a/k/a "The Talking Hat"
It seems that when the height-challenged Queen Elizabeth II visited the White House in 1990, Reed and his staff neglected to provide a step for her to stand on when she addressed those who attended her arrival ceremony.  The result, Reed later told an interviewer, was that “all you could see was her hat bobbing up and down behind the microphones.”  

But the “talking hat” incident was not taken seriously by the five-foot-four British monarch, who joked about it years later at a dinner on the royal yacht that Reed attended.

How would you like it if the headline of your Washington Post obituary reduced your threescore and eighteen years on earth to a “memorable gaffe” and ignored everything else?

*     *     *     *     *

“Sunday Papers” was released in 1979 on Joe Jackson’s debut album, Look Sharp.

I haven’t kept up with Jackson’s more recent recordings, but the songs on his first few albums were as smart as anyone’s.

Here are a couple of other noteworthy lines from “Sunday Papers”:

Well, I got nothing against the press
They wouldn't print it if it wasn't true


Here’s “Sunday Papers”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mika – "Boum Boum Boum" (2014)

Boum boum boum
Même les Américains comprennent

(Or, in English, “Boom boom boom/Even the Americans understand.”)

I read an article in the New Yorker today by an American woman who had to learn French because she married a Frenchman.  (If she had just shaved her underarms and showered regularly, she could have landed an American husband and skipped learning French.)

There were a number of bizarre facts in that article, including the following:

—  “In Archi, a language spoke spoke in the village of Archib, in southern Dagestan [which is a part of Russia], a single verb — taking into account prefixes and suffixes and other modifications — can occur in 1,502,839 different forms.”  (I’d like to check the author’s math.)

— French is one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn because somewhere between a quarter and a half of basic English vocabulary is derived from French words.  According to the U.S. State Department, it takes an American about 600 hours to learn French, but 2200 hours to learn Arabic or Mandarin.

Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover
— Speaking of Mandarin, Herbert Hoover and his wife were fluent in it.  (The Hoovers lived in China for several years; he was employed as a mining engineer there.  The couple spoke Mandarin to each other in the White House when they didn’t want anyone to know what they were saying to each other.)

Knullrufs is a Swedish word used to describe the way one’s hair looks after having sex.

— In French, all nouns have a grammatical gender.  In other words, they are masculine or feminine for purposes of grammar.  Une chemise, which means “man’s shirt,” is feminine.  Un chemisier, which means “woman’s shirt,” is masculine.  If that doesn’t prove that the French are nuts, I don’t know what does.

*     *     *     *     *

“Boom Boum Boum” was a 2014 hit single for Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr., who records under the name “Mika.”

“Boom Boum Boum” translates as “Boom Boom Boom” – which means “makin’ whoopee” (a euphemism that host Bob Eubanks used regularly on The Newlywed Game).

Here’s “Boum Boum Boum”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Attila – "Hate Me" (2014)

I don’t give a f*ck 
About my bad reputation

A lot of people are saying that Hell or High Water is the best movie of 2016.  

I almost agree.  Everybody Wants Some is my favorite movie of the year so far, but Hell or High Water isn’t far behind.

I say that even though the movie’s plot is based on a Bernie Sanders-ish premise that is (in the words of my high-school English teacher, commenting on the first draft of my valedictorian speech) Communistic, socialistic, and critical of parents – not to mention contrary to fact.

Here's the official trailer for Hell or High Water:

Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, the protagonist in Hell or High Water is a “justified criminal” – in the words of the TVTropes wiki, that’s “a person [who] becomes a criminal because of socio-economic reasons, or just plain horrible circumstances, and is portrayed sympathetically because of this.  Basically a person or a group of people are in dire straits and need money immediately and become bank robbers, and drug dealers out of necessity.”

In Hell or High Water, the “justified criminal” is Toby Howard (Chris Pine), a divorced father whose mother had to take out a reverse mortgage on the family farm to pay her medical bills.  Now that she’s dead, Toby has to pay off that mortgage or the bank gets the property.

Did I tell you that Toby has recently learned that there’s oil on his family farm, which makes the property vastly more valuable than anyone thought it was before his mother signed up for the reverse mortgage?

Toby doesn’t care about himself, but he wants the oil-rich farm to go to his sons so they won’t have to grow up poor like he did.  He decides to raise the cash he needs to hold on to the farm by robbing banks – not just any banks, mind you, but branches of the bank that gave his mother her reverse mortgage.  He asks his brother Tanner (Ben Foster), a hot-tempered ex-con, to help.

Ben Foster (Tanner) and Chris Pine (Toby)
“Justified criminal” movies usually feature a crime committed against an “assh*le victim” – a victim who deserves what he/she/it gets.  

A bank usually makes an excellent assh*le victim – especially if it’s a very large bank headquartered in some far away place and managed by people whose appearance and accents are very different from the justified criminal and his salt-of-the-earth neighbors.

I expected to have a problem with Hell or High Water because some of the reviews I had read made it sound like cartoonish left-wing propaganda – evil bankers engage in predatory lending so they can profit by foreclosing on poor hard-working folks who fell on hard times, until a couple of modern-day Robin Hoods show up and give them their comeuppance.

There are a number of problems with the movie’s plot.  For example, once oil was discovered on his family farm – making the property worth many times the amount of the mortgage debt owed to the bank – Toby would have had no trouble refinancing the loan . . . which means that he didn’t need to rob banks to hold on to his property.  (If you don’t believe me, go to any bank in the world and see if you can get a $45,000 loan secured by a property that produces $50,000 in oil royalties every month.  I think you’ll get that loan toot sweet.)  

Toby and Tanner rob a bank
But I’m used to having to overlook a little illogic when I go to the movies.  Sometimes the scriptwriter has to cheat a little to make the movie work dramatically. 

Hell or High Water gets really interesting when Toby’s decision to rob banks has some unanticipated – and very bad – consequences.  

The movie opens by showing what happens the first time Toby and Tanner rob a bank.  Tanner – who’s a real loose cannon – smacks a harmless old banker in the face for no apparent reason.

In this video, the director of the movie discusses the that opening scene:

Later, the boys hit a branch that was full of customers – and since the movie is set in Texas, several of those customers are carrying guns.  Toby and Tanner lose control of the situation and a full-scale firefight ensues, resulting in the death of two bystanders.

The brothers then split up.  Tanner really has nothing much to live for – a fact which he is all too aware of – so he takes a rifle and heads for the hills, hoping to draw the attention of all the lawmen who are chasing them away from Toby so Toby can get to the bank on time to pay off the mortgage and save the farm for his sons.  

Tanner is outnumbered, but he has the high ground and he’s a good shot.  He takes down a Texas Ranger with a gruesome head shot before being flanked and killed by that Ranger’s partner. 

Paying off the mortgage
At this point, we can no longer characterize Toby or Tanner as a “justified criminal.”  While it may be OK to rip off a bank that’s ripped you off, it’s hardly OK to kill several innocent people along the way.  And while it was Tanner, not Toby, who pulled the trigger, Toby knew his brother well enough that he should have anticipated that him losing control and going off the rails was a real possibility.

So while Hell or High Water may begin as a simplistic morality tale pitting a working-class hero against greedy bankers, it turns into something much more subtle and compelling along the way.

Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water"
The Texas Ranger who becomes Toby and Tanner’s nemesis is played by Jeff Bridges, and Bridges delivers a tour de force performance.  But I couldn’t help but wish that the producers had cast Tommy Lee Jones in that role instead.  

Bridges does a great job depicting a crusty, politically incorrect, soon-to-be-retired Ranger who is a lot smarter than he looks.  

Perhaps the most impressive demonstration of his acting chops is when he sits back and lets an even crustier and more politically incorrect waitress absolutely steal the one scene that she appears in – Bridges knows that what she is doing is magic, and he gets out of her way and lets her have at it.  

But I feel like Jones would have not only have been able to do everything that Bridges did, but also would have inhabited the character so completely that you would have forgotten that you were watching an actor.  

If yu want to know what I’m talking about, compare Bridges in True Grit to Jones in No Country for Old Men.  Bridges was very good, but Jones was perfect.

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When New York director Sidney Lumet came to the Texas panhandle years ago to make a movie based on a book by Texas native Larry McMurtry, McMurtry was dismayed by Lumet’s utter lack of knowledge about all things Texan.  “I doubt that he’s ever had a Dr. Pepper,” McMurtry said.

By contrast, Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is a west Texas native whose script displays his broad and deep understanding of Texas culture.  Sheridan fully appreciates the significance of Dr. Pepper to Texans.

In my favorite scene in the movie, Toby and Tanner stop for gas at a nondescript convenience store.  When Toby goes inside to pay, Tanner asks him to bring back a Dr. Pepper.  

But before Toby returns, a couple of young punks with more testosterone than brains pull up to the pump.  The driver tries to stare down Tanner – who pays no attention to him – then waves a very large handgun around while berating Tanner verbally.  

You expect the volatile Tanner to pull his gun and start blasting away.  But it’s the mild-mannered Toby who returns from paying the cashier and proceeds to beat the everloving crap out of the driver.  

As the brothers drive away after the beatdown, you hear this exchange:  

Tanner:  This is a Mr. Pibb.  I asked for a Dr. Pepper.
Toby:  So?
Tanner:  Only assholes drink Mr. Pibb.
Toby: Drink up!

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When the two punks pull up to the gas pump in the scene described above, today’s featured song is blasting out of their car stereo.

Attila is a metal band from Atlanta that formed about ten years ago.  “Hate Me” – which has truly appalling lyrics – was released in 2014 on the group’s fifth album, Guilty Pleasure.

Here’s the official music video for “Hate Me”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Beatles – "She Loves You" (1964)

She loves you
And you know you should be glad

(The fangirls always went crazy when the Beatles sang that falsetto “Oooooh!”)

The Liverpool Football Club is one of the 20 soccer teams in the Premier League, the highest-ranking division of the English Football League.  It has more first- and second-place finishes than any other team in the Premier League except Manchester United, and has officially recognized fan clubs in at least 50 foreign countries.

The most fanatic Liverpool F.C. supporters once watched the game while standing on the terrace at one end of the club’s Anfield stadium that was known as the “Spion Kop.”  

Originally, the Spion Kop was a steep embankment without seats – the fans in that area had to stand throughout the match. 

Spion Kop standees
At the height of Beatlemania in the early 1960s, the Spion Kop could hold up to 30,000 standing fans – most of whom were working-class men or younger fans who took advantage of the fact that admission to Spion Kop was much less costly than buying a seat elsewhere in the stadium.    

The absolute best thing about director Ron Howard’s new documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, is the film of thousands of “Kopites” — all males — swaying and singing “She Loves You” a cappella during a Liverpool match.

Here's the BBC television feature that film came from – the singing begins about 55 seconds into it:

Spion Kop got its name from a 4790-foot-tall mountain in South Africa that was the site of a Second Boer War battle.  The Battle of Spion Kop — the name means “Spy Hill” in Dutch – was a defeat for the British, who outnumbered the opposing Boer forces considerably.  

A few years after the battle, a local newspaperman compared the appearance of fans standing atop an embankment for spectators at the Arsenal F.C.’s London stadium to soldiers standing atop Spion Kop at the battle.  

Boers soldiers in front of Spion Kop
A couple of years after that, a Liverpool newspaper reported that a similar embankment at Anfield “has been termed ‘Spion Kop,’ and no doubt this apt name will always be used in future in referring to this spot.”  The name was made official in 1928, when a roof was built to shelter Spion Kop standees from the rain.  Many other English football and rugby clubs named their standing-only terraces “Spion Kop” as well.

Liverpool Kopites are famous for singing at soccer matches.  “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical  Carousel became the club’s official anthem after it was covered in 1963 by Gerry and the Pacemakers, a “British Invasion” group that rivaled the Beatles in popularity at one time.  (The band’s first three releases that year – “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was one of them – went to #1 in the UK, and the Pacemakers had three other top ten hits the following year.)

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Before producer/arranger George Martin became the “Fifth Beatle,” he produced a number of novelty records — including two Peter Sellers comedy LPs.  

After “She Loves You” became a hit, Sellers recorded four readings of the song’s lyrics in different accents – a Cockney accent, an upper-class English accent, an Irish accent, and a Dr. Strangelove accent.  That recording was released only after Sellers died in 1980. 

Here it is:

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“She Loves You” climbed to the #1 spot on the British record charts in September 1963, and surpassed a million units in sales by November.

But when the single was released in the United States, it sold barely a thousand copies and never cracked the Billboard “Hot 100.”

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” made it all the way to #1 in January 1964, and after the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February, “She Loves You” quickly took the #2 spot.  

The two songs switched positions in March, and in April, the Fab Four held down the top five spots in the “Hot 100” with those two songs plus “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Please Please Me.”  That’s never happened since and I doubt that it ever will. 

And here’s “She Loves You” by the Beatles:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: