Monday, March 2, 2015

A Few Words about the Best Movie Ever Made

Every time I watch this film, I think that the spell will be broken; that I'll suddenly be terribly bored and unconcerned with the plight of the characters.  Even worse, I secretly fear that somewhere in its three and a half hour running time, I'll nod off and start snoring loudly.  It never happens.  None of that.

I went to Seven Samurai yesterday at the Cinerama and it was fantastic.  It was the first time that I noticed how good the overall pacing is and how there are no unnecessary scenes - only those essential for telling the story.  Sure, it's a long film, but it doesn't seem that way at all.  When you think about how good this film is and think, "Why the hell am I wasting my time watching Birdman or Guardians of the Galaxy?"  The answer is an easy one: because there is only one Seven Samurai, whereas the world is full of lesser films.  You could watch Seven Samurai every day, but that might diminish its impact.  It'll still be the best movie ever made; it'll just be a bit less special.

OK, Kurosawa has his share of masterpieces.  Me, I favor Yojimbo and Sanjuro over Rashomon and Hidden Fortress, but Seven Samurai takes the cake over all of them.  There isn't a film out there that blends a strong story with such wonderful acting and great directorial technique.  The result is the best movie ever made.    

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

I took these yesterday.  I can't decide which one I like better, so have them both!

Belltown in Bloom

It's happening, people.  Warn the others!

Fists & Fury

Here's another reason to love the Cinerama: they're showing kung fu and samurai films till next Wednesday.  So far I've gone once, to Drunken Master.  The marquee is wrong, The Legend of Drunken Master is the sequel; this is the original.  Both have Jackie Chan, but the original is just filled with gleeful rudeness.  There's a whole lot of farting and barfing.  And of course, Jackie Chan (with his dorky eighties haircut) is spectacular but not as charming as he would be in later movies.  He's actually pretty bratty, but hey, that's the character of the film, whose message is: if you drink while you fight, you can't lose.  Damn straight.

In just a few minutes, I'm off to a showing of Seven Samurai.  I've seen it many times in theaters and at home, but never on a screen this big.  It's my favorite film of all time.  I also think that it's the best movie ever made.  So yeah, I'm pretty excited.

Tomorrow night is Black Belt Jones, a horribly cheesy cross-exploitation film.  I can't wait.    

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Birdman Wins Big

OK, so Birdman won four Oscars.  It tied with Grand Budapest Hotel for total, but it took home more in major categories.  Now, I'm happy for all involved, but I have to say that since I've seen Birdman, I've really had some second thoughts about it.  It's a well-written, well-acted and well-directed movie that completely misses the mark.  The more I think about it, the more I believe that it's complete malarkey.  I've written about this before, but the notion that art has to be dangerous in order to be valid is utter hogwash.  If you throw in a bunch of professional actors acting very unprofessionally, then its impact is further blunted.  True, it's about a group of flawed individuals putting on a show that will redeem Michael Keaton's main character.  But if anybody was ever as disruptive as Edward Norton, then they would never be able to act again anywhere, Broadway legend or not.  And the most maddening aspect of the entire film is that the staging of these Raymond Carver stories doesn't even appear to be that good.  If it wasn't for the intervention of the aforementioned dangerousness-that-proves-art, it would be just another sub-par, pretentious vanity theater production.  Sure, it has some surprising comic moments along the way and Emma Stone is quite good, but its view on art is so childish and it being such a central theme makes much of the film grate on me.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: art is not achieved by mistake or in desperation; it is made by people who hone the craft.  It is a calculation.  If that sounds like a bleak assessment, it isn't.  If you know how it's done, you do it.  And it isn't done the same way every time.   It always changes, which is why inspired mistakes and desperation don't help matters at all.

Funny thing, I wasn't overly crazy about Grand Budapest Hotel.  I felt it was all light and little heat.  It was very tough to care about any of the characters, especially those whose manners were more wooden.  It does offer the standard Wes Anderson charming awkwardness and attention to detail, but it left me cold.  Mind you, I loved Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom.  Those should have won all the Oscars, but what can you do?  Anyhow, that was this year's Academy Awards.  At the party I went to, I only got 10 out of the 24 categories right, so no prize for me.  Oh well, that's what I get for not betting on Whiplash.                

Your Sunday Squirrel

I recorded for three days last week, so I wasn't able to get to Denny Park till Saturday.  But when I did visit, there were many squirrels there to greet me.  The above photo is about the best I could muster.  There were some near-misses, like this one:
Ooh, just out of focus.  And there's this:
A little more out of focus.  Plus, it's off-center.  Sad trombone!  It's kind of funny that the vast majority of the squirrel photos I take aren't even as good as this.  It's usually some guy skittering somewhere or a patch of open lawn where another fellow was just seconds before.  Well, nobody ever said squirrel photography would be easy.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

Sorry about the silence, two dedicated readers.  I've been recording.  Yeah, five days last week and three days this week.  I haven't been able to visit the squirrels much, but I did get this picture.  It looks like this guy is perilously close to traffic and he is.  But squirrels are scared of everything, they generally don't venture out into it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

17. Seattle



Well, this is the end.  I am just a few days away from recording my next album and this is the end of my discography.  I have posted every single song I've ever recorded.  It seems that I've sparked the same interest as I have through various other forms of promotion.  That is to say, nothing.  Well, I guess that's showbiz.  I'm pretty tremendously proud of what I've done, as it differs greatly from whatever else is offered.  But I have to assume that it isn't what people are looking for at this time.  Maybe it's something else.  I don't know.  Timing is always crucial in these matters.  I have five - and soon to be six - examples of bad timing.  It is difficult to put out works that have no audience.  I don't know how much longer I can do it.  But here's a personal account: when I finished Mackris v. O'Reilly, I pretty much vowed to not write another note again.  It was completely not worth it, due to all the crap I had to endure to get it performed.  I approached its production with pure heart and clear intent, and so much really bad stuff happened in between.  So I was, like, OK, that's it.  No more music.  I've learned my lesson.  It didn't last long.  I launched another massive project that attracted zero attention, then another, then I started writing pop music.  I'm five albums into this experiment and, so far, nothing.  Of course, I've appealed to all the outlets who claim that local music is their primary concern.  I don't want to mention names, but there's a certain station that's right across the street from where I photograph squirrels that does nothing but throw my albums away.  Seriously, I get far more airplay in Bangor, Maine.  I suppose this is the narrative to most musical careers.  You try; you fail.  You try again; you fail again.  And then you give up, because the world is sending you a message.  Right now, I'm trying to figure out what to do.  I can't stop writing music.  That's not an option.  I don't begrudge anyone any success that they've had.  Even if that someone is Train or Coldplay.  Or Capital Cities or Maroon 5.  Or LCD Sound System or Wiz Khalifa.  But the truth about success in pop music is that there's always room for what you're doing - unless, of course, what you're doing is completely derivative garbage, but wait - every band I've mentioned falls into that category.  Oh well, sorry.  I guess it's just like the lottery.  Stupid people win; smart people win, and they're all equally miserable.  While the people who never win are also miserable, but in a different way.  By nature, I'm a happy person.  In the Freudian sense, I gravitate towards what makes me happy.  But what makes me happy requires an audience, which I don't have.  So you can see my predicament.

With this next album, I harbor no illusions.  I will record it and it will receive decent airplay around the country.  I will sell three copies and it will gently drift into oblivion until I record something else, only to have the same thing happen.  I suppose those are merely the realities of the music business compounded with the even starker realities of living in this town, where the claims of supporting local music don't have to proven in any way.  Hey, just spin something crappy and local every hour and they can bring it up, come pledge time.  There's become a common practice in independent music over, say, the last 25 years.  It's poorly recorded, performed and produced.  That's become the standard.  But if you're an independent musician putting out stuff that's good in all three previous categories, it will sound wrong.  Do you sing in tune?  Yes?  Sorry.  Can you play your instrument?  Yes again!  Sorry.  And so it continues.  I am an independent musician not out of choice, but out of predicament.  Of course, I've appealed to local labels and local promotion companies without success.  I don't mean to vent all of my gripes at this time, but that's kind of what's happening.  I wish it were different.

Both albums from last year were superior efforts.  But the edge goes to the funk album that came out second.  It's good.  Go listen to it.  It's called Unobscure at Last.  I posted all of it here.  What are you waiting for??

My origin story is that I'm a jazz musician.  Since for the last 10 or so years jazz has been basically a dead art form, I've been recording pop music.  When I told people that I was going to do a funk album, the response was not exactly encouraging.  This being Seattle, I heard nothing.  People telling you that you're crazy or stupid (or both) for attempting something like this is generally considered too confrontational.  So you're stuck with silence.

I am not exactly the model of self-confidence, but when I get in the studio, I know exactly what to do.  I'm surprised by how competent I am.  I know what I want and I hit it very hard.  I hire excellent musicians, so I get great performances.  That might be the trouble right there, because in rock 'n' roll there's something exhilarating in listening to music by someone who doesn't know how to write music.  True, their careers never last long, but sometimes they produce interesting stuff.  And in the realm of independent music, when something is well-crafted, it sounds weird.  OK, so I have five - soon to be six - albums, all of which sound weird.

By the way, this track is my arrangement of the tune Seattle, which was written, or so I'm told, by a guy who only visited Spokane.  I never understood the term "beautiful child." When I was a kid, every kid around me was ugly.  Maybe I was ugly, too.  Who knows?  So I had no idea what that meant.  I still don't.  Let's face it, this is a novelty song that was a TV theme for a show about Seattle that wasn't actually filmed in Seattle.  And it wasn't very good.  They don't even show it on the local rerun channel anymore.  But the tune itself is not bad.  It's just that the skies here are no bluer here than they are anywhere else.  Perhaps the hills are a greener kind of green due to the excessive rainfall, but most of the song is pure claptrap.  Plus, the rest of the lyrics are really bad.  I wanted to change them, but that wasn't possible.  It's too much of an iconic tune.  So this is what you get: a funky, energetic marching band tune that doesn't resonate with anyone here.        

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

16. U District



Let's see, where were we...?  OK, I'm sorry this has taken so long to conclude.  I'm getting ready to record a new album next week and it's a pretty overwhelming task.  All the more since it's a double with 45+ tracks on it.  The long and short is that I have to learn 33 of my own tunes.  No, I don't learn them as I go along.  Basically, I finish a tune, forget about it and move on.  I only revive it when I'm planning on recording it.  Of course, Greater Seattle was a completely different venture.  I wrote every tune for this album in a very short amount of time.  The biggest challenge was to find something to say about any given part of the city.  The U District wasn't that difficult.  I was already working with this seventies feel, so everything else kind of fell into place.  I'm not saying that the subject matter is intellectually advanced or anything, but it does suit the feel of the song.    

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Your Sunday Squirrel

I took this photo way back in 2010.  To tell you the truth, I really don't remember it, because I was taking a lot of pictures that were much better.  But this one is passable.  Oh, and there was a Super Bowl today.  The desired results were not achieved.  It was close, but the Seahawks were on the receiving end of the bad luck.  What I've heard - and I agree with it in a kind of second-guessing way - is that they should have just handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch and let him punch it in.  Or Russell could have run it in himself.  Or some other scenario not involving a goal-line interception.  Here's the deal, the Seahawks played a great season.  It was completely nerve-wracking at times, but it was exciting.  They should have won, but blew it on a freak play.  They lost and society hasn't collapsed.  There's no rioting going on here.  Life goes on and there's always next season.  And so the Patriots get to be champs.  Well, good for them.