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July 16, 2010

Strung Out in Heaven

My last Casual Fridays post featured my favorite neo-psychedelic artist of the last decade, Animal Collective, coming in at number 7 in my Favorite Albums of the Decade list (FAD) with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.   That put me more than halfway through the list, with Number 8 on its way – soon – once I get through a recent distraction.

I often consume music through serial obsessions which have certainly served as a filter for putting together my FAD list, a recollection of all the new records and artists I could not get enough of at some point during the last decade.  I also get re-obsessed with older music, often in regular cycles.  There’s a yearly all-out Beatles orgy.  I remember listening to nothing but Bob Dylan for about three months after seeing Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan fetish film I’m Not There, a pass I repeated recently after reading Greil Marcus’ Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.

File:Album Cover Strung Out In Heaven.jpgThe absence of a FAD post in previous weeks is a result of just such a re-binge.  I have been Strung Out in Heaven, if you will, with the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM), a band I suspect many of you have not heard, but one I really want you to hear.

It all started about five weeks ago, on June 5, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

This was not the first time…

Indie Music – a technical definition – from Wikipedia  – “a term used to describe independence from major commercial record labels and an autonomous, Do-It-Yourself approach (DIY) to recording and publishing.”

Indie Music – a working definition – music most people have never heard made by artists most people have never heard of.

Indie Music – a reality – often great music made by artists that fail to achieve mainstream notoriety during the most active portion of their careers, either because of their avant-garde nature or because of a deep flaw in their actions or temperament that leaves them incompatible with the uncompromising workings of scaled commerce, a/k/a the music business.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre is Indie Music, complies with each of these definitions, and is a complete mess, in some ways a real massacre, of itself.  It’s an Indie band for life, featuring throughout its history over 40 different musicians, most leaving the band as a result of impossible differences, or a violent exchange, or both, with BJM’s founder, the sole constant over the band’s history, and apparently a complete and utter psychopath, Anton Newcombe.

There is always wonder surrounding a BJM live show.  Will Anton blow-up on stage, resulting in a completely ridiculous gig, probably cut short by his and the band’s inability to resume peacefully, or will the band be tight and musical.  In either case it is entertaining, but if you are lucky enough to see a show where all goes well, as I was on June 5, you’re likely to see and hear some of the best 60’s-influenced psychedelic-pop music in the world.  The band is really that good, particularly its catalogue of music created from the Mid-1990’s through around 2004.

It turns out there’s a lot in a name if there is enough thought put into it, and Anton is a purposeful and revealing namer of his band, its songs and its albums.  The name Brian Jonestown Massacre tells us a lot about the sound, a wacky tribute to: (i) one Brian Jones, the long-dead founder of the Rolling Stones and one of rock’s first multi-instrumentalists, (ii) cultism, (iii) violence and (iv) hypnotics.  Not surprisingly, Anton, an American from California, is: (1) a devoted anglophile, (2) a lover of late-sixties-early-seventies trip music, a la Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Jones-era Stones, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, (3) a shoegazer (think My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain), (4) underground, and (5) obsessed with the sound of 1960’s guitars underneath the beat of maracas and tambourines.  BJM picks up these classic sounds and movements, revitalizing them in a contemporary context, combining candor, abstraction, irony, love, and, oh, some damn catchy hooks.

This band should have been ample competition for Oasis and Blur in the 1990s, but even as messed up as both those Brit-rock 90’s favorites were, BJM had them beat.  BJM just could not be counted on; they were a bad investment, blowing every opportunity for mainstream exposure.  Today they exist primarily as an influence on many current, highly successful revivalist bands like the White Stripes, the Black Keys and the Strokes.  They still play to small clubs and ballroom audiences that learned of them primarily through indie rags and their starring role in the 2004 award-winning documentary  DIG!, a terrific film that presents the absurdity, comedy, violence and occasional genius of Newcombe and his ever-changing band of followers over a seven-year period where they regress from leaders of the Indie Music scene to also-rans to their major-label-neo-psychedelic contemporaries The Dandy Warhols.

Despite all of its flaws BJM is not lazy.  Anton is an obsessive worker and a super-prolific songwriter with a discography that includes at least 19 available EP/LPs made mostly by the band themselves.  Most BJM’s records are of the DIY variety, made on low budgets and pretty much anywhere the band could find recording equipment.  From 1993-2004 the songwriting quality is outstanding and consistent, but some of the recordings are not.  The one major label record (for TVT Records in 1998) is the herein referenced Strung Out in Heaven, a higher budget affair and the perfect entry point for BJM newbies.  If you like the Beatles, the Byrds, the Animals, the Velvet Underground and/or early Rolling Stones, I believe you will adore this album.  If that’s not enough, and for me it wasn’t, try Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request followed by a greatest hit compilation of sorts, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland.  The good news is that if you get hooked, and you might, there is plenty more great material to explore.

_____________________________________________

Notable(s):

Dig! is a fantastic film – check out the trailer below – see it.

Whoever this drfostersmith is, he’s got some great footage of the new BJM line up on youtube.  Here’s one of my favorites, Anemone, from the BJM album Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request, a two chord hypnotic that my wife plays along with at home on her lefty guitar.  This version was performed during BJM’s recent 2010 tour, featuring Anton’s reunion with founding member Matt Hollywood.  Check out all those gorgeous 60’s guitars.  How many are there?  Too many to count, man!

I – I think I know how I feel
cause I – I only play it for-real
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
flying over my head
you’re landing all over town

you – you know that I try
try to tell you the truth
oh baby don’t make me lie
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
now I’m missing you more
cause baby you’re not around
now that you’re not around
I – I want to know how it feels
cause I – I only play act for-real
you should be picking me up
instead your dragging me down
I could be giving you love
but you’re not around
now that you’re not around
now that you’re not around
glad that you’re not around
If your curious about BJM’s personality, check out this interview with “Anton the Vessel,” which speaks for itself.

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June 29, 2010

My Bodyguard: Bullying, Cyber-bullying and CSEE – The Center for Social and Emotional Education

  

The movie My Bodyguard was a pretty big hit when I was a teenager in the 1980’s, and I remember seeing it and cheering for Clifford (Chris Makepeace) in his battle with the incessant bullying dished out by Moody (Matt Dillon).  It’s a pretty good movie.  Sure, the kids get their revenge on the bullies, something I doubt many bullying victims actually seek, but it does a great job of capturing the eeriness of bullying.  I remember wondering whether the bullies I grew up with rooted for Matt Dillon, who plays the bully with an absolutely perfect creepy heartlessness, and who, of course, gets his in the end. 

My Bodyguard (Adam Baldwin), Moody (Matt Dillon), Clifford (Chris Makepeace)

I might be all grown-up but bullying continues, in both direct and virtual form; yes, today’s kids bully online too.  Yesterday the New York Times launched the first article of an ongoing series called Poisoned Web, with an expose’ covering “cyber-bullying” – a newly coined term that covers all sorts of creative abuse that takes place through texting and on social networking platforms like Facebook.  

Bullying has also gained national notice because of the case of Phoebe Prince (see the April 15, 2010 People Magazine’s cover story: Bullied to Death? Phoebe Prince: Her Final Days) who committed suicide on January 14, 2010 after months of being bullied by her classmates in the western Massachusetts town of South Hadley (near Springfield).  Phoebe faced both direct confrontation and cyber-bullying, through negative Facebook messages and texts.  

Phoebe Prince’s suicide has spawned a wave of anti-bullying legislation through the US, including a new Massachusetts statute passed on May 3, 2010, and another passed in New York just yesterday.  The New York Times article does a good job of exposing some of the legal boundaries, many of them free speech related, to combatting forms of bullying that stop short of physical violence.    

Over the years we have come to learn that there are long-lasting social effects to incidences of bullying.  Its existence severely subverts the social atmosphere in schools and the emotional development of kids, regardless of whether they’re the ones doing the bullying, getting bullied, or just passively watching.  Today we know that nearly 9 out of 10 kids say they have seen someone bullied and at least 10% of all kids are bullied on a regular basis.  The National Crime Prevention Council reports cyber-bullying is a problem that affects more than 40% of all American teens and that, of those affected, almost 60% do not tell their parents or another adult (teacher) about the incident.  We also know that bullies are 4 times more likely to evolve into criminals and that being bullied can cause children to experience fear, depression, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, physical illness, and in some cases, even, as noted in the Phoebe Prince case and others, suicidal thoughts or even suicide. 

We also know that bullying can be reduced by up to 50% when there’s a school-wide commitment to end it.  

One organization committed to working to reduce bullying in schools is New York-based CSEE (The Center for Social and Emotional Education).  George Igel, MD, psychiatrist, fellow healthcare investor and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for CSEE first introduced me and my partners at Psilos to CSEE a few years ago and we have been supporting its work ever since. 

CSEE was founded in 1996 at Teachers College, Columbia University and their mission today “is to measure and improve the climate for learning in schools to help children realize their fullest potential as individuals and as engaged members of society.”  One of these initiatives is to develop the tools and resources to create a school-wide climate intolerant of bullying.    

CSEE’s bellwether program is called BullyBust, an awareness campaign designed to reduce bullying in schools by teaching students and adults how to stand up to bullying and promote Upstander Behavior including:  helping others who have been bullied, stopping untrue or harmful messages from spreading, making friends outside of current cliques, and befriending new students, to name a few (See the 10 ways to become an Upstander here.  Also see a library of student produced “Upstander Videos” here).

File:Wicked-poster.jpg

The BullyBust program has recently teamed up with the hit Broadway musical Wicked to bring the Witches of Oz (Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, faced discrimination when she was young because of her green skin and strange mannerisms) to classrooms across the country to teach important bully prevention strategies.

If you are intested in seeing Wicked please use the code “CSEE” when purchasing tickets and a portion of the sales proceeds goes to support BullyBust. 

Meanwhile, in case you’ve forgotten what it feels like to face the wrath of the bully, check out My Bodyguard

March 8, 2010

Oscar Picks Audit / The Handsome Men’s Club

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Film — Steve Krupa @ 8:55 pm

A quick recap on the Oscars, and then back to more vocational posts.

I went 5 for 6 on my picks.  My prediction that Carey Mulligan would upset Sandra Bullock did not come to pass.  However, I do stand by the artistic merits of my pick, and, I have to say, I do like Bullock’s public persona.  As I was saying to my wife during the show, if I had to bet I would have bet on Bullock.  On the whole, I did not notice any big surprises except for The Hurt Locker‘s getting a bunch of technical awards, which I thought Avatar would sweep.

To wrap it up, I thought you might enjoy the following video, called The Handsome Men’s Club from Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscar show.  For sure, there are quite a number of surprises here.

March 5, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director and Other Oscar Picks

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Film — Steve Krupa @ 11:35 am

This year’s film phenomenon was undoubtedly AvatarHow much did it really cost? – numbers range from $230-$500 million.  It’s analogous to Star Wars (I saw Star Wars with my father the first week it was out.  I was 13).  Its state-of-the-art 3-D/CGI sets the stage for revitalizing the Hollywood blockbuster, creating new film making techniques and enhancing the theatre going experience as something superior to home DVD viewing, even Blue Ray.  Avatar is a visual masterpiece and James Cameron deserves praise for it.  But does he deserve the Oscar for Best Director?  Is Avatar a great movie, or an amazing visual spectacle?  Did someone make a better movie this year?

Avatar, which I really did like, ranks 6th on my list of the 10 nominated films (yes – I have seen all 10).  As beautiful as the film is, I find its story flawed (I’ve seen it before).  Granted, the predictability allowed me to get absorbed into the 3-D/CGI, but I never quite fell for the Universe’s greatest sci-fi army falling prey to the native’s bows and arrows and super powerful prehistoric animals bit.   For a more intellectual dissection of Avatar’s plot failings, check out David Brooks’ analysis in his New York Times Op-Ed, The Messiah Complex.   

Director Kathryn Bigelow spent around $15 million on The Hurt Locker and managed to make a much better movie than her long-ago ex-husband Cameron; it might well be my favorite war movie since Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.

So what makes The Hurt Locker so special?  It manages to slow down war and make it comprehensible, both visually and emotionally; it creates a set of characters we find ourselves giving a damn about; and it creates non-stop, nearly unbearable, suspense.  Every shot and hand-held camera angle is meticulous and in almost every instant we know exactly what everyone is doing and why.  On a personal level, it’s also about those of us that at some point in our lives learned to do something so well that we loved it beyond anything else.  That’s the case of the understated main character in this film, Staff Sgt. William James (played by Jeremy Renner).  He knows how to diffuse bombs better than anyone.  He’s a hotshot.  It’s all he loves, and he changes the lives of everyone in his platoon as a result of it.

Below is my ranking of the nominees for Best Director.

Best Director Ranking:

  1. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
  2. Avatar (James Cameron)
  3. Precious (Lee Daniels)
  4. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
  5. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)

If you have an interest in Bigelow, and you’re okay with a couple of plot spoilers, Leslie Stahl’s 60 Minutes profile on Bigelow is very interesting.  It includes an interview with James Cameron who insists Bigelow might win because she is a woman.  Oh, I failed to mention, were Bigelow to win she would be the first woman ever to win the Best Director Oscar, pretty cool.

For controversy, note that one of The Hurt Locker’s producers, Nicolas Chartier, has been banned from the Oscar ceremony because of e-mails he sent urging academy members to vote for his movie  (he also indirectly pans Avatar in the emails, apparently).

It is “Casual Friday” so here are my other Oscar Picks.  We’ll check in on Monday to see how I did.

Best Picture Ranking:

  1. The Hurt Locker
  2. Precious
  3. Up
  4. District 9
  5. An Education
  6. Avatar
  7. Inglorious Basterds
  8. A Serious Man
  9. Up in the Air
  10. The Blind Side 

I have no idea how The Blind Side got nominated, it’s a very good made-for-TV movie, like Brian’s Song.  Bullock might win for Best Actress, but I didn’t get why the performance was so special.  My wife disagrees.

Best Actor:

Jeff Bridges is great in Crazy Heart.  He sings, he plays, he pukes, he does it all.  He was better as the Dude, so this is a make up win for a great career, but he deserves it.  Jeremy Renner is also excellent in The Hurt Locker.  If he weren’t running against Bridges I’d expect him to win.

  1. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
  2. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
  3. George Clooney (Up in the Air)
  4. Did not see: Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus)

Best Actress:

  1. Carey Mulligan (An Education)
  2. Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)
  3. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
  4. Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
  5. Did not see:  Helen Mirren (The Last Station) 

Carey Mulligan upsets Sandra Bullock – you watch.  And see An Education.  It’s creepy and unexpected.

 Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
  2. Did not see: Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)

Sorry, I can not add a lot of value to this category given that I have not seen 4 of the 5 performances.  I did think Christopher Plummer did a great voice over in Up, as the evil explorer, and Stanley Tucci was sweet in Julie and Julia.  Christoph Waltz MADE the movie in Inglorious Basterds.  I have not heard similar praise for the others, but we’ll see.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Mo’Nique (Precious)
  2. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
  3. Tie:Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)
  4. Did not see: Penélope Cruz (Nine)

Notwithstanding my missing Penélope Cruz (Nine), I just cannot believe that Mo’Nique will not win this category.  In Precious she (Mo’Nique) plays Mary Jones, the meanest most disgusting woman in the world, and the perfect antagonist to the loveable Precious herself.  I guess Mo’Nique is a loved stand-up comedian (I thought to include a youtube clip of her stand-up routine, but it’s quite dirty and this is a PG blog).  Credit Lee Daniels for getting a great performance out of her, and other celebrities including Lenny Kravitz and an almost unrecognizable Mariah Carrey.  Note: Gyllenhaal was very good in Crazy Heart, but my favorite performance of hers was her supporting role in Away We Go, which is a very fun movie if you haven’t yet seen it. 

 

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