Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Music: Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann

I just got back from seeing my friends Bric-a-Brac, who were opening for the Swedish hip-hop act Movits! Bric-a-Brac is known for covering the kitschy and obscure from 1950s and 1960s pop. One of the songs on tonight's set list was "The Shape of Things to Come,"from 1968's youthsploitation movie Wild in The Streets. I'll transcribe the lobby card above to give you a gist of the plot:

This is the story of Max Frost, 24 years old...President of The United States...who created the world in his own image. To him, 30 is over the hill. 52 percent of the nation is under 25...and they've got the power. That's how he became President. This is perhaps the most unusual motion picture you will ever see!

Part of President Frost's platform is to lower the voting age to 14. After his election, people over 35 are rounded up and forced to take LSD. Wild in The Streets also features appearances by Shelly Winters, Richard Pryor, Peter Tork, Bobby Sherman and a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. [Ed.~ I have to get this movie! Who wants to watch it with me?]

In addition to an embarrassment of cameo wealth, the movie has a good soundtrack. The best song is the apocalyptic-sounding "Nothing Can Change the Shape of Things to Come," by the fictional Max Frost and the Troopers. I guess this is his State of the Union address.

The song was penned by one of the most prolific songwriting teams in pop music, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. For the past 50 years, they've written hits tailored for nearly every genre and fashion in pop music: "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (The Animals), "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (The Righteous Brothers, co-written with Phil Spector), "Kicks" (Paul Revere and The Raiders), "Here You Come Again" (Dolly Parton), and a few hundred more. I think their work in the latter half of 1960s was especially good, like "Love is Only Sleeping," performed here by the Monkees.

History of Rock: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil [Link]

Wild in The Streets trailer [Link]

Bric-a-Brac on Chic-A-Go-Go [Link]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Music: The Wrens

Last weekend, I saw The Wrens at the legendary indie rock venue The Middle East, in Cambridge, MA. I was in Boston for a conference, and stayed in a hotel in Cambridge--mostly because I nearly always prefer to lodge away from conference territory. There's just something to be said for being able walk through the lobby in sweaty yoga pants or eating a banana or some other vaguely unprofessional-appearing activity and knowing there's minimal risk of running into an acquaintance.

A couple of train things: Boston is rotten with fancy universities, which must explain the astounding number of ads for medical research participants. These are usually posted in the "T" and open their pitches with rather personal questions. "Are you shy?" "Do you have irritable bowel syndrome?" My favorite went something like this: "Do you sometimes mistake noises for voices? Are you antisocial and have few or no friends? If so, and you are a male between 18-65...(etc.)" I wondered who would step up for that one. Also while on the train, we passed a HUGE crowd outside of Northeastern University. It was the Coakley Senate race rally, featuring a very special guest, Barack Obama. A man with a classic Southie accent pointed at a line winding down two city blocks. "They ahhnt gonna get in. It's already ovah capacity!" Unfortunately, Coakley was the one actually representing the Democratic ticket, and we know how that went.

I would like to pretend to be cool enough to have known about The Wrens for...oh, at least six years, since the release of their last album, The Meadowlands (2003). Honestly, I didn't hear about them until very recently, and attended the show on the recommendation of a friend. Founded by four Jersey boys back in 1989, the band was stalled early by label troubles and endless A&R nitpicking. The Wrens are now middle-aged and have day jobs (I've been told that one of them is a sales rep for Pfizer), and appear to be thriving in this new world of indie marketing and social media. Saturday's show was consistent with their reputation for intense live performances, with the audience joining them on stage for the final encore.

The following is fan video, accompanying "She Sends Kisses," from The Meadowlands album. Charles Bissell's lyrics, about the girl who sends mixed messages, are great.

The show ended well after midnight. It was then that I discovered that the trains, unlike in Chicago, do not run all night. Hailing a cab proved futile, so I started to walk back to my hotel, located just south of the MIT campus. It was cold, and the streets of Cambridge were nearly empty. In the darkness, three men were struggling to carry something round and about three feet wide. A tabletop? That seemed an odd errand early on a winter morning. When I was a little closer, I could see that it was actually some sort of complicated puzzle or structure made out of interlocking pieces of brown cardboard. I instantly thought "MIT," but perhaps I'm giving Harvard geeks short shrift. I still wonder why they had to smuggle it across campus at nearly 2 am.

The Wrens Bio (official site) [Link]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In memory of Red

I took down all the Christmas decorations today. Normally a melancholy task, it was made more solemn by loss of our little cat, Red. He died suddenly this morning of a cardiac arrest. He was only five or six years old, but had a weak heart--probably from earlier malnutrition. He started life as an alley cat, a kitten roaming with his mother and brother. Gradually, his little family disappeared. Alone, he would pace the alley and caterwaul mournfully. "Where are you? Why have you left me?" he seemed to cry. We lured him into the house after noticing that a cut on his foot had become infected. He gradually unwilded, and gave himself up to the imperfect love of humans. Red grew to relish some pleasures of domestication, such as belly rubs and slices of avocado. Still, he would at times pace the darkened house, awakening us with his cries. "It's OK boy, we're right here," we called out, and he would grow quiet.

For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness
he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit
without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.

An excerpt from Jubilate Agno", Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Santa, c'est moi

This year, Santa was very, very good to me. Every gift was charming, unique and tailored to my particular sense of aesthetics. That's right: I self-gifted. My family agreed to stop exchanging presents a few years ago. However, a robust strain of Puritan shame and reflexive self-denial kept me from buying anything more extravagant than a pair of mittens for myself. Why was this year different? I mostly blame Etsy, the online store for independent crafters and artisans. I just wanted a little art for my bedroom and bath, both of which are getting a new coat of paint. Etsy is a very dangerous website; it is possible to fall in love with dozens of objects during just one session of browsing. To be fair, I also got into some mischief at the Renegade Handmade store and the Pilsen East Artist's Open House. All three are good places to find affordable art. Allow me to spread the love for these crafters and artists, as well as show off my "gifts."

Vintage Illinois map with a native moth. From Real Butterfly Gifts

"We're all in this together." Porcelain wall hanging by Poodlebreath

"Insider 2" and "Manhunter 2" Acrylic on panel, by Fateyes

"Lovebug" Hand embroidered illustration on vintage textile, by Moxie Doll

I also purchased two prints from Andrew Suprenant, a photographer and documentary filmmaker. The prints, aerial views of landscape around and within a Kentucky strip mine, are not included in his set on Flickr. Andrew's production company, 137 Films, recently released Atom Smashers, about the struggles of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to stay viable, particularly during the tenure of the notoriously science-hostile Bush administration. It sounds like a good documentary, and my description surely didn't do it justice.

"The U.S. vs. God Particles." Seed Magazine [Link]