Friday, October 29, 2010

Due to nasty Russian-bred Malware, a week-long electrical retrofitting of our apartment complex AND an unusually complicated Halloween costume, Stompbeast will be taking a hiatus this week. We will return next Friday with our fine-tooth combing of the classic 80s flick St. Elmo's Fire.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Cryptkeefer Visits NPR

Years after facing off with Gene Simmons, NPR mainstay Terry Gross finally got her chance to confront the St. Francis of Assisi of rock and roll decadence when she interviewed Keith Richards this week for her Fresh Air radio show. The interview is in conjuction with Richard's new autobio (cheekily titled Life -- ha ha), which arguably ties Mark Twain's autobiography as the hottest and most eagerly awaited dish of the Fall.

Thing is, if Richards followed Twain's lead and waited 100 years to finally publish his own life story, he'd still be alive. Now that would make an interesting interview.

Monday, October 25, 2010


So long, pal

If you're a member of Gen X, how do you know you're old -- or at least getting there?

(a) when they declare someone "the New Madonna" -- and it sticks

(b) when they invent new sexual pecadilloes that horrify -- or at least mystify -- you

(c) when they turn to you at a party and say, "You know, it's nice to know people your age who can still party"

(d) when they publish magazine cover stories with titles like "What Ever Happened to Generation X?"

(e) when they come up with an uncreative moniker for the next generation ("Generation Y" -- really?)

(f) when you find yourself feeling shocked at how old and puffy John Cusack looks

(g) when they discontinue the single most important audio breakthrough of your entire generation

Yep, those nerds at Sony have announced that the iPOD and MP3s have won the Millennial Sound Wars: no more will they manufacure the Sony Walkman. I personally haven't used or owned a Walkman in about, oh, twenty years, which is just enough time to have completely forgotten about it's impact on my life. It as first devised by Sony technicians (particularly engineer Nobutoshi Kihara) in 1978 after Sony chairman Akio Morita requested a device on which he could listen to opera whilst flying around the world on business trips. Once again, a rich guy gets a bug up his ass and the rest of us benefit.

When the original Walkman first hit U.S. shores at the beginning of the 1980s, it was called the "Soundabout" and it took about 2 or 3 years before you couldn't go a block and not run into someone power-walking with what looked to be a TV remote strapped awkwardly to their hip. Then there was those cheap, squishy foam covers that always ripped or fell off, leaving you wearing the painful bare metal earphones that bit into your skin. The first music I heard on a Walkman was Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast (my roommate's). The first argument I had over a Walkman was with my Mom over the effects of blasting my eardrums with sonic noise. The first "cassingles" I bought and listened to were "Been Caught Stealing" and "Things That Make You Go Hmm." The first cassette album where I first and fully appreciated the stereophonic effects on the headphones was Godley & Creme's The History Mix, Vol. 1 -- it was one of those clear plastic cassettes they made in the mid-1980s that for some reason smelled like grapes. The first time I "showed off" my headphones was to impress a girl after a school bike trip in 10th grade, listening to "It Must Be Love" by Madness but not letting on that the batteries were dying and the music sounded like it was being melted in a frying pan. The first time I "co-listened" to a Walkman with one of those two-way splice plugs was with an old friend as we walked through snow drifts while Santana 3 blasted on our earphones. We never did that again: something about two guys listening to the same Walkman made us uncomfortable, as if we were showering together or something.

If I remember correctly, I believe I owned about 5 or 6 different versions of the Walkman over the years. The first just played cassettes, the next incarnation included an AM/FM radio and subsequent models were all pimped out with MegaBass, AutoReverse and Graphic Equalizers. Thing is, each version was so cheaply manufactured (at least the ones I could afford on a teenager's salary) that one jostle could destroy the whole apparatus. It got to a point where I became paranoid and fearful about my Walkmans' fates, especially when the futility of taking them into the local stereo repair made itself painfully apparent. Case in point: lying on my dorm room bed in college looking up at a shelf above me where my just-bought Walkman sat gleaming and ready to be used and thinking "You know what? That's not a safe place for such a precious commodity." As I reached up to grab it, my wrist became entangled in the dangling headphone cord and the thing came crashing down on my desk. That was it. Dead as Dillinger. Never was played and never would be.

Now, in our Audience Participation segment, we're collecting memories good and bad about the wild and woolly frontier days of the Walkman. Feel free to post yours in our 'Comments' section. And please, no penis pill advertisements. Show some respect for the dead.

Friday, October 22, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. VIII: The Devil Went Down in D.C.


"The man, the myth, the legend! The one and only Billy the Kid!"

My second favorite scene involving FuckFace. There’s something quite poignant here despite all of the douchy behavior that obscures it. We see him in his existential shades and ratty old school jacket, walking across the autumnal village green of Fraternity Row. Like a true narcissist, he stops before his old frat house and waits to be noticed. It doesn’t take long. We see the glorious welcome develop like catching fire: some kids hanging out in front of the house see him and run in to grab Troy, a towheaded North Virginia good ol’ boy who comes bounding down the steps like a welcoming warlord. Billy, wearing blue socks over his pants cuffs for some reason, runs up and they do a double-hand high-five. Everybody cheers. Billy the Kid is home again!

Cut to an action shot of FuckFace and his acolytes playing a rompin’ game of tackle football. He and Troy tumble in the dirt and then have a bromancy “just like old times moment.” Lowe’s face when he says “old times” and smiles couldn’t be more phony. You can’t help seeing him thinking about where they were all going to go out partying that night—meaning him, Judd, Emilio, Demi—and that, Yeah man, I’m famous and I’m gonna get famouser. Life is swiggity-sweet! Lemme just get my “old times” face on so we can go out and grab the brass rings that are owed us!

Fuck Face, ever testing out all the angles, tries a ham-handed attempt at charity-work—for himself: “Troy, man, I was thinking that maybe I could get a job on campus with the students. The fraternity, coaching. Anything.”

Soooo, you want a job as a “coach” for an informal pickup touch football team. Right. Uh-huh.

TROY: Oh yeah! We could use somebody like you around here, Billy!
TROY: Yeah, we need somebody to get us some good drugs, man!

WHANG ZING!! BUZZ KILL!! Billy’s reaction is classic: utter deflation. Is this all I meant to you guys? Yep. That’s why it sucks to be a guy. That’s why it sucks to be a legendary party animal. Unless one of your frat mates grows up to be Jack Kerouac and writes a bestselling novel about a character that was based on your legendary wild behavior back in the day a la Dean Moriarty, the “stories” you are racking up will evaporate, and your “bros” who once cheered you and egged you on will be looking at you in nostalgia-tinged pity from their barcalounger in their plush living room in their beautiful house whose couch your are currently crashing on after your 11th rehab stint. There’s no retirement dinner once a great party boy retires. There’s no grand speech from your successors praising your time in the sun, no gold watch, no Tiki torches. One day you just show up ready to go like you always have and you’ll hear a pipsqueak’s voice behind you, utterly unafraid of any consequences you could bring down on them: “Who let the old guy in here?”

Cut to a rather unappealing looking bald baby with a deformed head and drool smeared all over its chin, looking happily at a cheap rattle. Poor Felice is minding her young daughter: “What is that, your rattle?” she coos to the child, holding back from saying: Where is your daddy? Wasting our time again? Chasing pipe dreams? You and I have a looooot to talk about when you’re older, gal young ‘un… The bitter-lemon look she gives FuckFace is like a cornered viper – it almost looks as if she’s going to bite him. Then, out of nowhere, she drops another bomb on our boy: “Remember Ray Slater? The guy I was going out with before I met you? Well, he came by to see me yesterday. He still wants to marry me. He said he'd take care of me and Melody.”

FUCKFACE: Don't you give up on me.
FELICE: We could probably still get an annulment...
FUCKFACE: No! I'm gonna change. I'm gonna get the right job. Look, there's gonna be no more drinking. And no more women. You're not gonna believe how out of hand it's gonna be!

The fact that he used his patented phrase “out of hand” – obviously cribbed from Alfred Lord Tennyson – does not bode well for this promise, does it? It’s interesting that although the filmmakers offer our FuckFace an easy way out that any decent young man in the prime of his life wouldn’t leap on in a millisecond, he stubbornly turns it down. I mean how hard does a guy have to be hit in the face with Divine Luck before he notices it? Is this some sort of cautionary scene about the mental aftereffects of beer-bonging?


We are back with poor Mr. Kim, the “Korean gangster” whom Alec set up with FuckFace. Now – because that proved so successful – he’s let Alec talk him into talking with by far the most stable member of this privileged gaggle: “Krazy Killer Kirby” Kaeger. Meethinks after this, Mr. Kim will divest young Mr. Newberry of his thumbs.

MR. KIM: I work out of my house. You must be available 24 hours a day. Complete discretion and loyalty. $500 a week.
KIRBO: I'm your man, Mr. Kim!
MR. KIM: I must be able to trust you with my house, my car, my private affairs.
KIRBO: Look no further, Mr. Kim. I'm your man!

Kirbo, in this scene, sits next to a large potted ficus tree: both strangely sit at the exact same angle. Is Schumacher making some sort of visual pun that Mr. Kim fails to pick up on that he would be better off hiring a potted plant to look after his house than this scrubbed-cheek spiked-haired cherub in front of him?

Kirbo puts up a good front – the ladies’ underwear under his suit is probably helping – but don’t all psychos when they’re putting together their terrible secret plans for the rest of us? We think that, maybe somewhere, Mr. Kim recognizes that Kirby is like him – insane yet capable, a functioning upwardly mobile sociopath who will dominate the crooked and shadowy world of D.C. power brokers when he and the old guard are all dead. He sees himself in this pink, red haired, corn-fed jocko-homo. Perhaps Kirby could be for him what Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski was for the Gambinos, Luca Brasi was for the Corleones or Chris Partlow was for Marlo Stansfield: his personal angel of death.


Kirbo, who's obviously gotten the job, pokes his head out of Mr. Kim’s Mercedes and hisses at the snarky private chauffeur to open his door. She reluctantly does as she is told and Kirbs springs out of the car towards where Dale Biberman is walking into work, not with a dagger or poison acid or straight razor in his hand but a copy of the Wall St. Journal, because he is a lame-o.

Later, at the trial, the chauffeur will be called as a witness. Here is an exerpt from her testimony:

PROSECUTOR: What did Mr. Kaeger do then?
CHAUFFEUR: (holding hanky) Well, um, then he walked towards the deceas—uh, Miss Biberman.
PROSECUTOR: Did he have the chainsaw in his hand at that time?
DEFENSE: Objection your honor. Using the power of suggestion!
JUDGE: Sustained. Keep your mentalist tricks out of this courtroom, counselor.
PROSECUTOR: Noted, your honor. (puts away spinning hypnotism wheel) Thank you. I put it to you again, miss: what was the accused carrying in his hand when he approached the victim?
PROSECUTOR: Answer the question!
CHAUFFEUR: I’m, I’m sorry…I can’t…
PROSECUTOR: You mean you can’t, or you won’t!
DEFENSE: Objection!
JUDGE: Counselor, I’ve told you about your liberal quoting of Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which Vincent Canby of the New York Times once called “a vulgar bargain-basement teen fantasia.”
PROSECUTOR: (takes ‘I Don’t Know’ sign off his neck) I’m sorry, your honor. Now, miss, would you please tell us what Mr. Kaeger was holding in his hand when he approached the hot leggy sawbones.
CHAUFFEUR (crying copiously) I can’t, I can’t, I’m sorry…it’s just too…
PROSECUTOR: I know it’s hard…
CHAUFFEUR: …too LAME. He was holding the Wall St. Journal, folded up like he had been reading it, with a couple of articles outlined in red pen with the words ‘ask jules’ written on them.
[The courtroom gasps.]
JUDGE: Sorry. I’ll turn the heat down in here.
PROSECUTOR: And what happened next?
CHAUFFEUR: Well, uh, then Miss Biberman, said, ‘Kirby, what are you up to?’ And Mr. Kaeger told her that he had just been handpicked as special attaché to Mr. Kim Sung Ho.
PROSECUTOR: The famous Korean entrepreneur?
CHAUFFEUR: (looking both ways rapidly with her eyes) Yes, uh, “entrepreneur”….
CHAUFFEUR: So, um, she’s all ‘What about medical school?’ and he’s all ‘Foolish pipe dreams, Dale. I had to grab my financial opportunities while I could. It's all about money, right?’ and she’s all ‘Well, good luck’ and he’s all 'I'm throwing a little party at Kim's house on Saturday night. I'd like to see you there’ and she’s all ‘Thanks, Kirby. I'll try’ and he’s all ‘good deal!’…”
DEFENSE: Objection! You honor, how long do we have to stand for this? The witness is obviously regressing to some sort of tween mall-chick state…
JUDGE: Overruled. I’ll allow this, but watch yourself, counselor…
PROSECUTOR: Thank you for the leeway, your honor. In order to return our witness from her regressive state I have elected to admit to evidence exhibit C… (pulls out Dale Biberman’s skull with the doctor’s reflector cap still on it on it and shoves it in her face) ‘Why are you continuously late to this class, Mr. Spicoli? Why do you shamelessly waste my time like this?’
DEFENSE: Objection!! Your Honor!!

And so on and so on and so on…


Wendy and our man Howie are canoodling like a couple of young lovers from a Booth Tarkington novel, standing by a gleaming new lemon-yellow Chrysler LeBaron convertible. She is obviously leading him on, and he’s buying it hook, sink, and liner. Alec and Leslie, dressed for the evening, show up to meet them. Alec sees the car and asks Howie: “So does this mean that you're officially engaged?” Howie, fresh and peppy as a puppy, emotes proudly: “Yeah!” before Wend cuts him off at the balls: “No, it means I'm officially thinking about it.” Howie backs down meekly: “Uh, well...” Alec uses this as a cue for a little emotional blackmail.

ALEC: What is this, Howie? Didn't you think women were always dying to get married?


The foursome arrives at Mr. Kim’s townhouse, where a swingin’ party down the line is happening, complete with smiling Korean houseboy in a white jacket bearing a tray of bubbly. In his delusional state Kirbo has decided to completely replicate the party at which he stalked Dale Biberman. He has also apparently decided to share credit for the party with the ficus tree. Seeing as it did so well in Mr. Kim’s job interview, Kirb has decided not to see it as a competitor for Mr. Kim’s affections. It sits right next to the front door, greeting guests and taking coats.

Oh look, the chauffeur has joined in on the action, she is halfway through her revelation as a “hottie” under all of that chauffeur-wear (see also: the nerdy/hot journalist in Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes”). John Parr's "Man in Motion" plays over the scene -- again. Apparently, there is no other music for this crowd. These Washingtonians have not heard the booty-bumpin’ black DC club music called “go-go” or its signpost acts like EU ("Da Butt"), Trouble Funk ("The Devil Went Down in D.C.") and Chuck Brown ("Bustin' Loose"). If this scene plays now, of course, there’d be a little Jay-Z or Three 6 Mafia on the stere—uh, iPod.

POLITICAL PARTYIN' D.C STYLE: Marion Barry Dances to Trouble Funk

Resplendent in a rented tux with red tie and cummerbund, Kirbo has become sort of a hair-gelled version of Jay Gatsby, putting on a huge party for one person who never shows. (Daisy = Dale, get it?) FuckFace, Alec and Howie all sport the 80’s layered look, with Alec and Howie both wearing British style v-neck sweaters under their sports coats. (Are Alec and Howie brothers under the skin?) They wander past Kevin, who's busy yammering away to a bunch of underclassmen: “You are so wrong. College is a four-year delusion so you don't have to deal with reality. Hi, Les! You're lambs waiting to be slaughtered, you undergrads…” This is the crucial point of the film where Kevin becomes tiresome.

Howie and Wendy pass FuckFace, who is wearing by far the worst tie of this film: a gold lamé number that like all of his ties looks to have been taken right out of a Salvation Army bin. The three regard each other warily, like gunfighters. Wendy tries to stammer out an introduction but Howie beats her to it, saying “Howie” before she’s finished with her sentence. (This might be the only improvised moment in this film, and it’s a wonderful one amidst a Gobi desert of spontaneity.) Howie politely shakes Billy’s hand and then says nervously but commandingly: “Well, we'll see you a little later, okay?” Howie is growing some balls: Wendy’s harpie sister was right, he is a “fine young man.” Howie = 1. FuckFace = 0.

Alec wastes no time in pouncing on our boy: “Billy, I want you to know I'm not gonna be getting you any more jobs.” Billy responds in mocking turn: “Al, you're so perfect. Such a young God. You not only have the right stuff, you have the right job and the right hair. I, of course, have the wrong hair.” As he says this, he nearly bumps into his own doppelganger—if you freeze frame, they make the exact same motion at the exact same time—with the same wrong hair, the same bad fashion sense (orange Hawaiian shirt under grey linen jacket), same dickweed smile. They never know the other’s there, but they pass within inches. Creepy.

Les, Jules and Wend are standing to the side, klatching. Jules is wearing by far her worst outfit to date: a pink leather jacket with her hair crimped from a Belgian waffle iron and silver lipstick later popularized by erotic dancers in the 1990s:

JULES: Forrester said he wanted to know what I'm looking for in this relationship. So I told him love, companionship and the vice-presidency. (throws her head back and cackles like Roseanne)
WENDY: Sounds like you have your boss wrapped around your finger.
JULES: I ever tell you what he likes me to do with my finger? (puts her arm around Wendy’s neck, almost burning her with a cigarette, blows smoke in Wendy’s face)
LESLIE: How's your stepmother?
JULES: Hanging on, the old witch. I found this place in California called the Neptune Society. They just wrap her up and feed her to the sharks for $500. I just have to ship her there.

FuckFace, ever the enabler, oozes out of the crowd to lope a tentacle around Jules to pull her away for some line-snortin’.

(Note: Schumacher places Poor Howie in the background just to the left of Wendy. Initially, it looks as if he’s having a conversation with someone offscreen, but it soon turns out Howie is just standing there in the corner in his itchy green sweater and yellow shirt, gazing forlornly at Wendy as she completely ignores him. Here, Howie is cast in the same role as Myra from the homeless soup kitchen, pushed to the margins yet staring wonderingly, fascinated, by our vapid main characters. In essence, Howie and Myra are stand-ins for you and me: we are the great unwashed, and we are fascinated by the beautiful people who ignore us and treat us like the window dressings for their busy lives. It's an L.A. thing.)

Wendy has broken away from Howie – how is he faring all by himself? “Uh, no thank you, I’m allergic to paté” before sneezing all over the proffered tray – and is standing out on Mr. Kim’s brick patio. There is some sort of visual metaphor set adrift here: the patio furniture has been covered over with white tarps, which blow in the stiff autumn wind. (Interpretation: “Summer’s over kids, time to grow up and die!”) There is romance in the air, which FuckFace promptly ruins by revealing that he hocked his beloved sax to pay the phone bill and then asking Wendy if she’s “still...a virgin?” (Implication: “You did it with HOWIE rather than ME?!”) Wend finally sprouts some moxie: “That's none of your business.” Yeah, Wend! Unfortunately, she ignores the tingly sensation she feels and unconsciously squeezes her rubberized thighs together. Meanwhile, inside, Howie gets his tie caught in the bathroom door. In front of a lot of people.

Cut to a rapidly unraveling Kirbo on the phone, tracking down Miss Biberman: “Yeah, hi. By any chance, did Dale Biberman get called in on an emergency duty tonight? Okay. Thanks.” Perhaps juiced by the word “emergency”, he tries an “emergency breakthrough” usually reserved for disasters like flash floods and fires. But Dale’s roommate isn’t having it: “I want you to make another emergency breakthrough. Do you hear me? She won't release it? Did you tell her who's calling? Did you tell her I was giving a goddamn party for her?!

Kirbo slams down the phone and angrily storms out of his own party. He is now in full psychotic-break form, capable of just about anything. He passes FuckFace, who in the middle of his 11th screwdriver woozily watches him go before stumbling sloppily over to the coke-snorting table, joining Jules and a now completely hottied-out chauffeur, who as it turns out is quite the coke slut. “Make room! The kid can’t fly on one wing!” FuckFace announces as Jules hands him mirror and straw. It is here that I usually imagine a threeway between FF, Jules and the hot chauffeur. (What can I say? I'm a product of my time.) Imagine this scenario: Jules and the chauffeur and FF go to a nearby political rally for Senator Hodges the Hotel Van Buren and videotape themselves having sex and dropping X; afterwards, FuckFace passes out and Jules and the chauffeur steal his wallet and sell the tape to Meet the Press. It might look something like this:

Ah, dreams…wait, IS THAT ANOTHER GUY!?

ALEC: Quiet, please! Quiet, please! Quiet, please. Everyone! Thank you. Big Al has an announcement to make!
SARCASTIC GUY: Oh, well, now we're excited.

Kevin inadvertently invents hip-hop scratching by pulling the needle off the record, which of course, is STILL “Man in Motion,” a record which is really making the rounds of the Georgetown party circuit.

ALEC: On June 1, Leslie Hunter will do me the long, long, long-awaited honor of becoming my bride. You're all invited! Thank you very much. Howie, let's make this a double wedding.

When Alec says Leslie’s name, he almost puts his arm around Howie, who stands grinning like an idiot next to him by the fireplace. Alec, we notice, has pushes his coat sleeves up to his elbows and has removed his crème-white cashmere v-neck, indicating he is really sloshed and feelin’ silly. Leslie, who was doing party-type things like adjusting the flowers by the stereo (weaselly Kevin lurks nearby), throws a conniption. She stalks across the room with some difficulty in her tight long spinster dress and shorty boots, pulls Alec into the kitchen, where they both stand correspondingly by two sinks filled with bags of ice.

LESLIE: What's the matter with you? Cut it out! We discussed this at home. Now you completely discount me!
ALEC: (acting innocent, grinning, hands in pocket, rocking on his heels like Johnny Carson giving a monologue) I'm just trying to facilitate the marriage process.
LESLIE: You want marriage or a Christmas card with the Newberrys in front of a fireplace?
ALEC: You're afraid to commit!
LESLIE: No, I'm not afraid to commit. I have to have something for myself first before I can share it with you.*
*I’m not proud of it, but this is one of the lines I subconsciously have picked up from this film over the years and have used repeatedly in my adult life, mostly to avoid commitment. I used it for so long that I actually started believing that I came up with it; when I found out it wasn’t original, and what the source material was, I was very upset. It’s a condition peculiar to us member of the Media Cocoon generation. There’s certainly a case to be made for subliminal suggestion.

ALEC: Oh, will you just for once not use as the excuse for not marrying me your god-damn career?

This line is delivered in a classic Judd Nelson hectoring/mocking tone of voice. God, he sounds like such an exquisite asshole, and his assholeness really spikes like a fever and doesn’t let up for the rest of the film. Is this, like The Big Chill, more the tale of a young hero fallen in the eyes of his adoring college friends? Alec never becomes likable after this, not that he was that likable before… in fact, from now on, we’re referring to Alec as “Titmouse."

Still, it’s easy to imagine Bill and Hillary Clinton having this conversation sometime back when they met at Yale:

LESLIE: Fine. All right then. I have a better excuse. What are we going to do about your extracurricular love life?
TITMOUSE: What extracurricular love life?
LESLIE: Alec, come on.
TITMOUSE: What did Kevin tell you?

Similar to many moments in this film, this comes out of nowhere. Up until now we, like Titmouse, had no indication whatsoever that Leslie had caught on to his garden rompin’. It just appears – poof! – and we’re supposed to buy it. Remember us bitching about the loose plot thread of him going to work for Senator Hodges? (No? Well, we did.) How about making Titmouse’s dalliance some hot chick in Senator Hodges office, tie those two loose threads together? That way it would be more believable for Leslie to catch on without too much explanation. But explanation seems not to be what this movie’s about.

Still, there’s much to be said for Les’s approach. Turns out she didn’t really know, she suspected, and then bamboozled Titmouse, who thought he was such a hot-shit political strategist, into admitting his infidelities. Thus comes the impression that Titmouse is more pissed at her for duping him than he is at Kevin for supposedly spilling the beans. Still, he’s gotta do yet another asshole thing and rush to the living room and throw poor hapless Kevin to the ground, screaming down at him: “What did you tell her? What did you tell her?” before Leslie calmly slides the knife in and twists: “He told me nothing. It was just a hunch...until now.” Again, the poor John Parr song is scratched off the record. Must be getting pretty worn by now.

Alec has that classic moment of momentarily turning into a large uncleaned ass. Right in front of everybody. He tells Leslie with mock hurt: “I want you out of the apartment tonight.” The party starts up again. Fuckface, now thoroughly debauched and looking like Lester Bangs after a really bad night, slurs: “It's cool. It ain't a party till something gets broken.” The chauffeur, now denigrated to TOTAL coke slut, hanging on FuckFace as he announces, “We're swinging now!”

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK: Where we examine the significant fallout from Kirbo’s party and finally get to our long-delayed new feature: ‘What If This Scene Was Directed By…?’ We promise. Pinky-swear.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who the &$@# is Conlon Nancarrow (and why is nobody besides Kyle Gann talking about him?)

Last summer, I met filmmaker Bill Scaff, who had come back down to L.A. to be interviewed for Filmforum's oral history of L.A.'s avant-garde filmmakers. (My lovely fiance was tasked with setting up the interviews.) Scaff was cleaning out the storage space he had left here and he gave me a vintage copy of a vinyl LP with the bizarre title Studies for Player Piano. (I say "vintage" because the record sleeve had a disc-shaped wear mark on the cover.) And there I discovered Conlon Nancarrow, the unforgettably named man behind this strange endeavor. Although I had come across his name in Alex Ross' invaluable The Rest is Noise, I never realized the scope of the man's work and life, which would make a great template for one of those Scott Alexander/Larry Karaszewski screenplays from the mid-90s.

He was from Texarkana but wound up living as a Mexican citizen (he stayed out of the U.S. for forty-plus years); he was an avowed card-carrying Communist who joined the rebel brigade that fought Francisco Franco's fascist forces; he was a jazz trumpeter who wound up composing music that could not be repeated by human hands; he was a recluse who seemed to have met or come into contact with many of the great composers of the modern era; he was influenced by minimalism but his music was "maximalist" to the extreme. His obsession was where music met machines -- he might very well have been one of the first cyberpunks -- and he found his perfect machine in the player piano.

Thirty-two years before Einstürzende Neubauten turned mechanized machines into musical instruments, Nancarrow seemed obsessed with the exact opposite. Influenced by the impossibly complex piano runs of the great jazz pianist Art Tatum and the theories of avant-garde composer Henry Cowell (whose writings on harmonic and rhythmic freedom he stated were "the most influence of anything I've ever read in music"), Nancarrow purchased a custom-built punching machine in New York in 1947, where he would manually produce piano rolls that he dubbed "studies." The reason he did this was simple: his music was so complex that it had to be "composed" without being performed by actual human fingers. Nancarrow, writes Alex Ross, "relied on his mechanical instrument to execute insanely intricate rhythmic designs that only a many-armed robot pianist could have played."

Our blog title was a little misleading: there is a trove of info on Nancarrow on the web. Our blogroll bud Kyle Gann wrote a tasty survey called The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (Cambridge University Press: 2006), of which you can read excerpts here. There's a site devoted to Nancarrow written by his former assistant Carlos Sandoval and an 80-minute radio program by Alejandro Viňao on musicians influenced by Nancarrow's work. Bruce Duffie interviewed Nancarrow back in 1987, ten years before the composer's death, and Minnesota Public Radio ran a portrait of his life and music just a few months after his death.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. VII: Kirbo Rising


Our poor shabbified Kevin has his second pointless encounter in the alley with his “secret love,” Madame Naomi.* “What would you say the meaning of life is?” he asks her. “Got 50 bucks? I'll show you the meaning of life,” she replies.

KEVIN: I don't pay for sex.
NAOMI: Oh, no? You think that if you get a little wife or girlfriend that you don't pay? You pay. Then you can't be sure you'll get it. With Naomi...You pay, and you get it. You get it gooooooood.

While she says this, she does some sort of hooker tongue-roll that, again, gives me a boner, which is enough to take away my attention from the fact that the scene serves absolutely no purpose (as does scenes IV, V, VIII, X, XI, XVII…). Naomi disappears from the rest of the film.
*Director Joel Schumacher – whom Rob Lowe referred to as “Mr. Schu” – included the scenes with Naomi after witnessing a similar conversation between a hooker and his limo driver. You can’t make this stuff up.


Here’s another one of those proto-Mad Men scenes where we see our stylized leads intermingling with marginal characters from marginal backgrounds. This time it’s the homeless population of urban D.C., who mull silently around Jules, Leslie and Wendy like George Romero’s zombies. Wendy comforting an uptight chef who complains they won’t have enough food to feed the populace and Wendy assures him “Oh, we'll have plenty. We'll be fine. There'll be enough.” (If she had this job, Jules probably would have made some sort of “let them eat cake” remark shortly before being decapitated.)

Leslie and Jules want to take Wend to lunch at Le Petit Château, but Wendy balks on how this will look. Leslie suggests they eat at the soup kitchen. Jules gives her a look like she just asked them to wade across a cesspool in their bathing suits. “And for our entrée,” she whines, “Campbell mushroom barley. How chic.” She is quickly tying up FuckFace as the most reprehensible character in this lil’ passion play. Wend introduces them to Myra, a gaunt, sallow bag lady with blackened circles under her eyes and a man’s wool cap shoved down on her head. She nods politely to the ladies and moves on, more interested in the food. Go, Myra!

Quite coincidentally, the ladies are discussing another outcast:

LESLIE: How's Howie?
WENDY: Well, I wouldn't say my father's trying to bribe me, but he did offer me a convertible if I'd get engaged to Howie.
JULES: Have you fucked him yet?
WENDY: Jules! God!
JULES: Get the car, fuck him, and if you don't like it, break the engagement. (beat) Then you can still fuck him!

Like Lowe, Moore has a way of making this loathsome character attractive – mainly, by tossing her head back and laughing outrageously. She does it again once the girls sit down in the cafeteria next to Myra, who begins staring at Jules as if she were some sort of desert mirage. Leslie and Wendy reveal that they’re staging some sort of behavior intervention for her affair with her boss. Jules responds with a nice summation of the future of reality-based fame that will prove to be quite accurate: “Leslie, this is the '80s. I bop him, get his job when he gets his hand caught in the vault become a legend, get caught in a sex scandal, retire in massive disgrace, write a bestseller and become the host of my own talk show.”

Myra: Falling in Love
Jules also has plans for her lingering stepmonster: “It turns out cremation is just as expensive as the non-torch method. If I don't come up with a cheaper solution, I'll end up a bag lady.” (beat) Of course, I'll have alligator bags.” (laughs and throws head back again)

She excuses herself from the intervention, saying she has to go meet Forrester. Myra watches Jules sweep out of the room, transfixed. Les and Wend shake their head: “She’s worse.” They should have called Candy Finnegan.


Shot in the gauzy,creamy light of an L.L. Bean ad or Summer’s Eve douche commercial, Leslie and Wend stroll down a cobblestone walkway, unmolested by the homeless people who have all been gathered up and deposited at the soup kitchen. Discussing Billy and Alec, Wendy equates FuckFace with another lethal habit, smoking: “I go as long as I can, and then I just gotta have a hit.” They agree in a much-quoted line: “Men: Can't live with them, can't shoot them.” Yeah, that Howie, what an ogre.


In the previous scene, Leslie alluded to FuckFace's new job: “Alec's got him working for this Korean gangster and I think Billy's doing a really good job.” Cut immediately to FuckFace doing quite a job on some dirty-blonde mall skank in Mr. Kim Sung Ho's hot tub while awful hard rock plays on the stereo. Kim (Mario Machado) arrives home early and FF is ready with a roguish smile and winking demeanor:

FUCKFACE: Kiiiiiiim! I thought you were comin’ back on Thursday!*
*“Billy had done well. I was proud of him. He fucked up good and proper.”


An exquisitely wrong scene – a testament to the power of an upbeat musical score to smooth over troublesome behavior and give a subtle “thumbs up” to whatever behavior we’re watching. Kirbo, who by this time I completely forgot was even in the picture, hunches on his oversized Special-Ed bike beneath a tree on a street outside Dale Biberman’s apartment building. It begins to rain; Kirbo simply flips up his collar. Dale’s red Datsun pulls out of its parking garage and Kirbo starts following it, almost getting hit by a car – death by this time means nothing to him – and then almost skidding into another car as he pulls up outside a tony G-Town mansion, replete with valets in red jackets holding an umbrella over Dale as she slides effortlessly out of her car and floats into the party.

Cut to a shot that looks like it should be out of a horror movie a la He Knows You’re Alone or When A Stranger Calls: behind a tray of champagne glasses, the camera slowly moves towards the rain-beaded window as Kirbo’s face rises slowly up into view*, soaked to the bone, with a menacing, slitted expression that is decidedly at odds with the upbeat version of the S.E.F. theme. He focuses on the vision of Miss Biberman removing her head-wrap (with the help of an attending servant) and unfolding her gorgeous tresses. Schumacher lights her in a lovely shot, slowing the frames down so that we can get a view of this unattainable beauty from Kirbo’s feverish eyes. Very Martin Scoresees.
*STUDY GROUP QUESTION: This shot is eerily similar to the shot of Martin Sheen rising out of the jungle muck with a painted face in Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Did Schumacher intend this as a homage to Emilio's dad?

Cut to another horror movie trope: a point-of-view shot a la Halloween moving unsteadily through the party, as a nervous voice offscreen asks: “Excuse me, sir, do you have an invitation?” The voice drops away, another strange moment. Wouldn’t Kirbo be immediately ejected from the party? How does he even get in?

We see Dale talking happily to someone before she notices the soaked pathetic figure before her, dripping all over the floor and into her champagne glass, glaring at her with puma-like intensity.

DALE: Kirby! How are you?
KIRBO: I'm obsessed, thank you very much.

Enough for a restraining order right there.


THIS SCENE MAKES EVEN LESS SENSE THAN THE LAST ONE!!! With no explanation or exposition whatsoever, we are suddenly back in Dale’s abode. She has brought Kirbo home! Are we supposed to believe this? That she would immediately leave this swanky party – where no doubt she knows she’s being checked out by rich eligible bachelors – with this weaselly wingnut she barely knows? Then again, there were plenty of witnesses to see them leave together, so that’ll bode well for the murder trial later.

Dale gives her version Kelly LeBrock’s famous “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” defense: “But you don't even know me. I'm very average. Full of flaws. I'm a slob. I can't even make a bed straight. I steal People magazine from my dentist's office. And look. I rarely take out the garbage. Here's my roommate, Judith. She hates me!”

Judith has entered with two arms full of groceries and agrees with Dale (“I hate her”) and we can see why. Judith – played by the usually hot actress Gina Hecht (of Mork & Mindy and Night Shift fame) appears as a frumpy, ill-tempered, badly dressed, chap-lipped roommate, the kind of chick who continuously whines “I want to leeeeave” while you’re trying to mack on her hot friend. We get the drift that Judith might be one of those friends Dale keeps around to make herself feel better, or that Judith is a tight-lipped lesbian who rooms with Dale for one reason and one reason only. When Judith catches Kirbo sniffing one of Dale’s pillows (ick!), she is immediately clued in to what he really is: a rival for Dale’s affections. Back off, you! I’m workin’ to turn this goddess!

Dale, who has a skull with a doctor’s reflector one it perched in her apartment, prattles on: “And here's the worst of all. When I first decided to be a doctor, I thought I wanted to serve people. But now, well, I'm starting to feel that what medicine's really all about is money.”

No shit. Kirbo, with no warning, responds: “It's money, isn't it? That's what you're telling me. It's because I don't have any money. Well, thank you for being so honest.”

He rushes out the door. Does this make any sense? Is this just a scene out of Kribo’s fevered imagination? Was intimidated by all of the wealth he saw at the party? If so, why does he flee once he sees Dale’s apartment – obviously like him she’s still halfway between poverty and wealth, so it would make sense to strike now, before she gets ruined by her profession.

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK: Dale gets ruined by her profession.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2010: Demokratic Vistas

After a two-day break, the Angel City Jazz Festival returned for its second leg on Thursday night with an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration—mainly between music and the visual arts. A bit of this was hinted at the Royal/T Café last week with the dinner/music/dance/video combo of the memorable “Cookin’ It Up” show, but both Thursday and Friday nights really drove home the interaction between  images and how artists respond to them. At the helm of the musical side of things were two L.A. composers whom I have been thinking about in the same breath a lot lately for their similarities: the festival’s keynote guitarist Nels Cline and the festival’s unofficial first lady, pianist Motoko Honda. Both conjure whole orchestras out of their respective instruments; both are musically omnivorous; both don’t hide behind their gadgets but utilize them improvisational devices in the bigger mix; both aggregate punk-rock energy with studious avant-garde discipline; and both have no limits to their talent.

Thursday night was the second buzz-worthy event since Henry Grimes on opening night: The LACMA-sanctioned premiere of DIRTY BABY, the picture/poetry/music “triologue” between L.A. badass painter Ed Ruscha, San Francisco-based producer/poet David Breskin and Mr. Cline. (A bethumbed review copy of the $125 coffee-sized tome with attendant “DIRTY NELS” CD sat like a giant doorstop in the museum bookstore.) Before beginning his readings, Mr. Breskin, a suitably intense and prickly gentleman with a lethal-looking shaved head who took very loud and elongated pulls on his bottled water, commented about how the boxes of fresh copies of the DIRTY BABY book were seized at U.S. Customs after being shipped in from its Italian printers; apparently, the book’s title scrawled all over the boxes convinced authorities they had hit the motherlode of confiscated child pornography. Oh Ed, still throwing people for a loop after 50 years!

David Breskin makes cellphone owners fear for their lives
(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

The show was split into two parts, the first of which was a less successful melding of the involved art forms than the second. Mr. Breskin began – after acknowledging the evening as being the 55th anniversary of the reading of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl – with nearly a half hour hour of continuous short readings of his tart, ironic ghazals (sort of like Arabic haiku with refrain). In the book they are combined with 66 prints of Ruscha’s little-seen “dumb block” paintings from the 1980s and 1990s: dreamy, murky silhouettes with those punk-rocky black-censorship bars over where text would normally be.

The DIRTY band, first set (from left): Wayne Peet, Jeremy Drake, Danny Frankel, Glenn Taylor, Scott Amendola, Todd Sickafoose, Nels Cline, Bill Barrett
(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

Cline followed with no less than, in Breskin’s words, “a time-lapse history of 6,000 years of Western Civilization.” His dream nonet of Left Coast players (whom Breskin dubbed "The People of the West") rose to the challenge with the stunningly epic and ambitious 42-minute title cut, which split itself into at least five different mini-suites that ranged from white squalls of noise to sweeping lyrical expanses that recalled composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copeland. (It was Cline’s own personal There Will Be Blood soundtrack—the title of which is even repeated in one of Breskin’s ghazals.) The standout instrument of the first set was the prairie-ghost whisper of Bill Barnett’s chromatic harmonica. This, taken with Glenn Taylor's delicate pedal-steel shadings, framed the suite as some sort of strange and fragmented Western opera.

(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

In the second set, Breskin’s terse readings turned bragging and hostile (“You Will Eat Hot Lead,” “I Thought I Told You That We Won’t Stop” “You Talk You Get Killed”) as he tackled the cracked mirror of America’s wars in the Middle East. These were interwoven more organically with Cline’s short bursts of bliss and vinegar. Besides electric guitar, Cline used what appeared to be a series of smaller and smaller acoustic guitars, including one that looked and sounded like a Cuban armónico, that lent the score a waft of Middle Eastern incense.

Lady about to attack her piano: Motoko Honda
(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

Friday night’s marriage of imagery and music was no less epic, despite the fact that there was only one musician onstage instead of fourteen. Pianist and sound sculptress Motoko Honda preluded the premiere of Steven Elkins’ frequently poetic documentary The Reach of Resonance (think Fast, Cheap and Out of Control with musical mavericks) by stating her confusion at being asked to compose a piece inspired by the film. “I am mostly an improviser,” she said almost apologetically before sitting down for a furious and anarchic 20-minute tour de force in which she practically crawled inside the instrument. Mixing lyrical, almost George Winston-like etudes with a prepared technique I can only describe as “flossing" -- slipping a fishing line around the piano strings and moving them back and forth rapidly to create a sound not unlike a methed-out bee swarm  -- she beautifully refracted the film’s mind-bending investigations into the outer reaches of musical inspiration, or what composer Jon Rose, one of the film’s four subjects, tellingly labels “sonic terrorism." Mmm, not a bad buzzword for the ACJ festival as a whole.


Our apologies to Mr. John Abercrombie, who closed out the festival Saturday night with his Quartet. The Beast took ill and couldn't swing it, but here are some lovely and candid shots of the master at work:

From left: John Abercrombie, Joey Baron, Thomas Morgan, Mark Feldman
(all photos courtesy of Myles Regan)

Friday, October 8, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. VI: Enter Howie!


Easily the most offensive scene in the whole movie. Maybe this goes beyond my life experience, but the most slavishly money-and-status worshipping families I’ve known have all been WASPs. I’m sure there are large Jewish families who revel in their wealth, but the Beamishs really take the knish. They should be an entire exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance.

Pa Beamish (the great caper-flick character actor, Martin Balsam – check out his work in the original Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and The Anderson Tapes) stands before his family by their tacky-elegant McMansion fireplace, prattling on about his growing greeting card empire, which seems to have swallowed the entire family save for Wend: “And this is our first store, built in 1953. We now have 24 Cardaterias—the largest greeting cards franchise in the East!” After silently coming in his pants, Pa recovers quick enough to ask FuckFace: “What line are you in?” FuckFace, already trashed, replies: “Munitions.” Wendy thinks this is hilarious. What an enabler!

Meanwhile, Wendy’s rigidly coiffed yenta sisters pester her about moving out of the house (wait wait, she still lives at home?): “Don't bring up moving out. Daddy'll have a heart attack in front of your boyfriend.”
WENDY: He's not my boyfriend!
LIBBY: Well, then there's a nice young guy working for us. Howie Krantz!
Just by his name, we know he’s going to be a dud. Poor Howie! Stranded at the card shop, Branded a foooool....

Cut to Ma Beamish (Joyce Van Patten, sister of Dick and relic from the world of 70s TV) as she anal-retentively oversees the table-setting, which she invokes as some sort of ancient tradition (“Candace, do like grandmother did. In the centre of the plate, neatly.”) Wendy gives her a squeeze and tells her she looks beautiful. Ma Beamish kvetches “I'm fat, I'm thin. I'm blond, I'm brunette” like a really bad Jackie Mason imitation. Here we discover the origin of Wend’s body-image problems, which FuckFace will mess up beyond repair in a few minutes. “Well, you always wanted to look like Elizabeth Taylor, and now you do,” Wend says hopefully, then moves carefully away to tell FuckFace: “My mother finds certain words too horrible to she whispers them. You'll get used to it.”

Cut to a very uncomfortable dinner,* spearheaded by Ma Beamish’s signature tic: “Did you hear about Betty Rothberg?” (Whispers loudly) “Cancer!”
*When I was about Bill—uh, FuckFace’s age, I attended a dinner very much like this one. It was with some beautiful but clinically insane wild rich chick who looked (to me) like the actress Sherilyn Fenn. We had met on the U of M campus and wound up taking the day off and driving over to the river town of Stillwater, Minnesota and got absolutely shitfaced at some outdoor tavern overlooking the Mississippi. She casually slurred she had a dinner to go to and would I like to come? Hell yeah! So she phones her family and tells them she’s bringing home “a teaching assistant from my Lingusitics class.” We showed up quite noticeably drunk and I met what turned out to be her whole family around a massive round table, with an extra place set for me, “the T.A.” I was seated near this woman’s sister, who very much like the Beamish Stepford wives was a sort of snarkily and vocally disapproving of her little sister. I was at that point of drunkenness where I thought I was being very clever and made up an entire story of how this girl and I had attended a “Linguistics Mixer” to celebrate the last day of the semester. This chick’s sister watched me though slitted eyes the whole time, sizing me up. The pervading wisdom at the table was that it was about time that she had hooked up with what appeared to be a very responsible and polite young man—for a change. In other words, I was her Howie Krantz!!

WENDY’S A-HOLE BROTHER-IN-LAW: Say, Bill, the day I married Rachel I got three Card-a-terias. I just bought a new BMW!
MA BEAMISH: Betty's daughter moved into the new neighbourhood. Only six Jewish families. (Whispers loudly) But very wealthy!*
*Again, another eerily similar story from my past: one of my mother’s old school rich lady friends saying: “Oh, we just loooove our new neighborhood!” before whispering behind her hand: “There are no black people there!” I mean, WOW…

Sure, make the Beamishs slavish materialists, but why make them so hideous and gargoyle-like? Why pile on the money-grubbing Shylock stereotypes? Here we are put in the odd position of actually sympathizing with FuckFace, especially when he’s asked “Where did you meet Wendy again?” and he responds (whispering loudly and sloppily pouring himself a generous glass of wine): “Prison.” Wendy can't get enough of him!

Cut to Pa Beamish peeling off a couple hundred off his thick bankroll and handing it to Wendy, telling his youngest tochter: “If you'd get married and run a franchise, you wouldn't have to borrow money.” He obviously doesn’t take her job working with the rank-and-file seriously: “It's killing time until you get married.” Wendy responds by asking for her own apartment. Billy interrupts this by climbing up onto the roof of the mansion and thus creating another inexplicable scene.

Wendy, already soaking wet, climbs out on the roof: “This is so great! All the years we lived here, no one ever did this!” FuckFace, thinking he’s Jim Morrison or something, cradling a glass of bourbon, replies: “I used to do it all the time. At the frat house, I'd crawl out of Alec's window on the roof with my horn.” Where’s yer sax now, Billy? Down on Planet Earth, the Beamish clan is fuhhh-reeeeking out. Says Ma B: “I knew it the minute he came in.” (loud whisper) “Drugs!”

Wendy is comforting FuckFace: “You miss school, don't you?”
*"Out of hand" becomes Billy's tag line throughout the film, which is lame until you consider the original: “This is awesome!”

He mimics falling off the side of the building, then pulls back with a roguish grin. What an asshole. Wendy, for no reason, is frightened, then thrilled (seemingly bypassing “angry”): “Well, that's pretty out of hand!” Yes it is! You are basically turned on by FuckFace’s death wish. How messed up is that? This girl’s got an evil streak a mile long and two miles deep!

Then, occurs one of the strangest segues I’ve ever seen in movie dialogue. See if you can follow this:

FUCKFACE: Ever think about it?
WENDY: Not while I'm still a virgin.

Ever think about what? Dying?! Offing yourself? Are we to believe that Wendy won’t commit suicide until she’s been deflowered? What a couple of sick puppies! If they actually got together, this pair might turn out to be an American version of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.*
*British serial thrill-killers of the mid-1960s

F‘Face is stunned by this revelation.

FUCKFACE: Come on. I mean, all those guys you went out with...Stewie Newman?
WENDY: Oh, please. Would you do it with Stewie Newman?*
*“A Stewie can do your income taxes. If you need a root canal, Stewie's your man...but humpin' and pumpin' is not Stewie's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Stewie, you're an animal Stewie, ride me big Stewie.' Doesn't work.”

Poor Stewie – the proto-Howie. I imagine Jonah Hill with giant glasses and green teeth.

Very abrupt, porn-film style cut to what looks to be the Beamish library – kind of an ironic place for our young lunkhead  – as Wendy and FuckFace finally get down to getting’ down. FuckFace, holding TWO glasses of liquor, almost knocks over a lamp while doing an Elmer Fudd impression: “Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting wabbit.” True to life, there’s a lot of apologizing in this scene.

They finally get down to making out and FuckFace, in rare form, goes right for her breast, nestled under one of Wendy’s unsexy puffy sweaters. FuckFace discovers her rubber fat suit while going right for her Secret Garden and gives it a loud ‘snap’ against her thigh. “What the hell is that?” he exclaims. “It's your scuba suit.”

Yes, that’s how quickly you can blow it with a chick. You can almost hear the whistle of a beach toy deflating. Then FF makes it even worse: “Wend, I'm really sorry. You're allowed to have fun when you're screwing.” Jesus! Yahweh! Did they hire Kirk Kelly and Ram Sweeney from Heathers to script-doctor all of Billy’s wonderfully tasteless and insensitive remarks?

Wendy, hurt beyond belief, peeps: “I don't think we should see each other anymore.” She leaves money for his rent on the stairwell banister and walks upstairs. Of course, FuckFace takes the money.


My favorite scene for a cornucopia of reasons: first off, the band the band the BAND. “Billy Hixx and the New Breed.”*Hah. Playing the Springsteen-esque “One Love” with FuckFace chewing up the stage with an impossibly prolonged sax solo that even Clarence Clemons couldn’t pull off if he swallowed a truckload of steroids. He goes on and on and on. The song apparently has no lyrics, just ‘One Love” sung by a guitarist with silly 80s hair that resembles a Chia-yamulke. (Apparently, Don Was is playing bass.) Again, the 80s-film’s lack of restraint: Billy just can’t be a good musician; he has to be protean, the BEST; he can’t just be part of the band, he has to be leading it; he can’t just play a quick, great solo, he has to dominate the entire scene. Billy’s entire presence in the movie can be summed up in this scene: loud, sweaty, obnoxious, fetid, full of himself, blowing his horn in everybody’s face and shaking his sweat all over the chicks in the front row (um, eww).
*The band is the real life band of Mare Winningham’s brother Patrick

"Let's rock!!"

The gang bursts into a bustling bar party, all dressed identically in suits and ties and Groucho Marx glasses. (For this scene, I kinda wished they had dressed like Devo.)

LESLIE: I wanna meet the woman who's turning Kirbo Kaeger into a doctor.
KIRBO: Hey, I've been an amateur gynecologist for years.

This seems like a line FuckFace would say, but he’s got the horn buried up to his tonsils,* so Kirbo, our resident apple-cheeked, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed psycho, picks up the slack. What the girls don’t realize is that he’s deadly serious: he has a stolen medical bag under his bed complete with specuulum and enema bag filled with Hawaiian Punch. Thing good thoughts, think good thoughs….
*Nick Offerman, the actor who plays Ron Swanson on NBC's Parks & Recreation recently told Under the Radar: “I’m a very intermediate sax player, but now that Rob Lowe is on my show, I had to cop to him. Like, ‘Dude your ridiculous fake sax playing [in St. Elmo’s Fire] inspired me to pick up a horn.’”

Jules, who has crimped hair from a Belgian waffle maker and silver lipstick, drops a drunken bombshell: “Leslie, did I tell you? I thought I was getting fired. Instead, my boss took me to dinner!”

LESLIE: Jules, I told you're not gonna start bopping your boss.
JULES: Too late! I'm gonna dance!

“Dancing” for Jules means elbowing her way to the stage and strapping herself on top of the jukebox and riding it like it was a Sybian machine. Her and FuckFace share a gross and greasy soul kiss. Alec, meanwhile, is dropping a bigger load on Kev:

ALEC: Can I borrow a key to your apartment tomorrow? The lingerie salesgirl has been calling me at the office.
KEVIN: You gotta learn to say no, pal.
ALEC: When Leslie says yes, I’ll say no.

Yes! It’s just that easy! Alec has already at his newborn-chick phase perfected the political talent of “compartmentalization” when it comes to sexual peccadilloes, instantly becoming a hero to many future American politicians like William Jefferson Clinton, Elliott Spitzer, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, Gary Hart, Bob Livingston, Helen Chenoworth, Henry Hyde, Bob Barr, Dan Burton, Rudy Giuliani, Gary Condit, Jim McGreevy, James West, Don Sherwood, Newt Gingrich, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villagarosa, David Vitter, Tim Mahoney, David Patterson, Vito Fossella, Kawame Kilpatrick, Bob Packwod, John Ensign….anyway, you get the point. The salient fact that Alec has just crossed the river over to the conservative side seems to bode well for his sex scandal potential.

Enter Howie Krantz (Jon Cutler)! Howie to me is the most interesting character besides Kevin and the yet-to-be-introduced Mr. Kim: he’s the stand in for the rest of us, he’s the indication of the smugness of the characters and the writers, he’s a sweet natured polite unassuming guy, a bit chubby, kind of prematurely rumpled, the kind of guy who could spend hours combing his hair and still leave a cowlick standing straight up in back and one shirt collar sticking out of his sweater. He’s doomed and branded from the moment he meets this noxious nest of culture vultures – a sort of Schlemiel-by-proxy who basically would be us if we hung out with Schumacher and his Hollywood- type friends. Apparently, wearing glasses all the time versus wearing them stylishly for specific tasks is a cardinal sin for which one can never ever be forgiven. Even Wendy looks like she can barely stand being seen with him, like she’s being escorted by a giant turd with excellent manners. Welcome to the 80s.

WENDY: This is Howie Krantz. Howie, Kevin Dolenz.
HOWIE: How do you do?
ALEC: Alec Newberry.
HOWIE: (glasses sliding down his nose as he shakes Alec’s hand) Alec? Nice to meet you!
ALEC: You wanna sit with us?
HOWIE: Oh, great. That'd be great.
ALEC: Great!

Alec delivers this last line mockingly. That’s all it takes with this craven coven, to say the word “great!’ one too many times because you’re a bit nervous in meeting these wonderful people your barely new girlfriend is always prattling on about.

HOWIE: I'm in the greeting cards business. I work for Wendy's brother-in-law.
ALEC: Humongous future in greeting cards!

Alec looks at Kevin as he says this, giving him a sarcastic smile: Can you believe this schmuck? Is he for real? Let’s keep him around for laughs! Oh Howie, run away now! You are too good for this room!

The Gaykren makes a reappearance, ostensibly to hook up with poor Kevin, who eyes him suspiciously. At the same time, FuckFace’s wife Felice (Jenny Wright) and some lummox in a leather bomber jacket who looks like the evil dojo sensei from The Karate Kid amble into the bar. She’s dressed like a flapper from the 1920s; he’s dressed like a dick. Onstage, FuckFace is really getting into himself (“Let's rock!”). He eyes a pretty young thing at the edge of the stage and immediately goes for her by sticking the bell of his horn directly in her face and melting it with a LOUD solo. Seconds later, he spots Felice with her paramour and immediately stops playing with no pause for breath:

FUCKFACE: Take your hands off my wife.
FELICE: Your wife? You're not married to me. You're married to your friends and the bar!
FUCKFACE: I said get your hands off my wife!

Is he kidding?

Blammo, Senor Face drops his horn, dives off the stage and punches Felice’s date. They fall to the floor (thank god the band stops playing) and we immediately see that despite his being born with a mouth his bar fight skills are sorely lacking. The other dude’s much bigger and soon has Billy on the floor and is punching his face with wonderful precision. Ah Billy’s one of those – a guy who starts fights who can’t fight. There is pandemonium and at last Wally St. Elmo grows a pair and fires Billy on the spot. Jules grabs the Gaykren, who utters yet another clichéd line: “I just had my nose done!” If anybody notices, our gallant Howie is making a big show of blocking Wendy from the violence, like nervous father shepherding his kids away from a vaguely creepy dude in the park. This is supposed to come off as geeky – and it is – but sweet nonetheless. He’s in over his head.

Outside St. Elmo’s, Lowe probably has his best acting moment of his career:

FUCKFACE: Goddamn it! I'll tell you, I should have had a vasectomy at birth! I'll tell you something now, Al, if you ever have boys, you'll just do them a favour and get them neutered right away! If they knock up some little sluts, they're the ones who are really fucked! Fucked for life! I hate you, you little bitch!!

Wow. For once, the innate crudeness of the script serves this scene well. Lowe delivers it in such a rageful shriek you wonder if he’s been playing possum in the film to prepare for this Big Acting Moment. (Did he expect to be nominated for an Oscar?) However, this is cut short by Felice’s date sucker-kicking him into the gutter, where he’s obviously most at home. Then, as abruptly as it began, it’s over, supplanted by a moment that’s as emotionally complex as this film will ever get. Double-F and Felice lunge for each other and have sloppy makeup kissing in front of the gathered crowd, the blood on his face smearing all over her lips (ugh!) and everybody goes "Awwww!" and applauds. But their scene rings false: their reunion too abrupt, too desperate, to manufactured, the hatred displayed too noxious to be dispelled this quickly (shades of Teen Mom). Nobody in the gang seems to be buying it.

LESLIE: You just go ahead with your evening with Howie.
JULES: Yes. No matter what he looks like.

They all laugh. Ah hah hah aha ha!

Howie, please, run away now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Ahh opening night. The electric-shaver buzz in the air! The expectant crowds milling about! The familiar faces! The parking fees! Welcome to the Angel City Jazz Festival Year Three. And for some reason – maybe momentum, maybe a perverse urge towards a Viking-style funeral – this year's bill was the most radical one yet. After getting a toehold with the first two years, what the hell were festival organizers Jeff Gauthier and Rocco Somazzi thinking?

I would be the wrong person to ask that question. My urge towards the fringier fringes of Out There music is not a good indicator of my judgment of a festival roster’s bankability. The esteemed music critic Greg Burk (who also reviewed the festival) asked me Monday night over dinner what I thought of this year’s lineup of artists and I froze with mouthful of cured tuna hearts. “I think it’s great!” was all I could muster. Burk was coming at me from the Long View of things: in order for this music and for the only annual festival to celebrate it to survive, it needs to embrace both the Out and the In. (To whit: last year’s sandwiching of the relatively straight-ahead B3 organisms of Larry Goldings between guitar freek-a-leek Nels Cline and the prepared piano of Motoko Honda.) I was coming at it from the blissfully oblivious punk-rock stance of, “the more extreme the better!” Which is why I don’t run a record label. I like Viking funerals.

This year, the extreme was exhibited in the majority of acts over the first few days having absolutely no set list. There were exceptions -- Kneebody and Ravi Coltrane on Sunday and the Trible/Beasley duo on Saturday – but the main feature was inventing a journey for the ears that wasn’t always “fun” in the classic sense. Like a good novel the music contained all emotions, from anxiety to abandon, from confusion to rapture. Hell, there was boredom in there a few times too, and the task of both performers and audience alike to wrest free of it.

Saturday was the much-ballyhooed return to L.A. of Mr. Henry Grimes, the bassist who has become as celebrated for the Hollywood-worthy tale of his rediscovery and rehabilitation as his pioneering work with the godheads of free jazz (Ayler, Taylor, Shepp, Sanders, Coltrane, Coleman). In fact, Grimes’ “story” has been told twice and Social Network-style in two opposing accounts in the last two months: first by scholar Steven Isoardi (“The Return of Henry Grimes: A Memoir” -- emphasis on that last word) and then a month later in the new literary quarterly Slake by journalist Hank Cherry (“The Resurrection of Henry Grimes”). It's a story, underscored by Mr. Gauthier’s opening remarks, that encompasses “hope, creativity and not giving up in the face of dire circumstances” and “very much an L.A. story.” We won’t get into all that here – in fact, we shudder at the thought of Grimes' story making to the big screen and becoming another The Soloist, complete with Kanye West or Sean Combs bobbing for Oscar cred by playing the troubled bassist. Suffice to say, all the crackling anticipation in the REDCAT theatre precluded that Mr. Grimes would be received rapturously if he simply stood onstage and did nothing but scratch his ear. He did stand onstage, but nothing the man did was simple.

Mr. Grimes’ set was preceded by the duo of vocalist Dwight Trible and pianist John Beasley, who took their own sweet time setting a subtle, churchified mood for their short set. They began with an improvised duet and moving into more structured material like “Autumn Leaves” and a bracing medley of “The Spirit of Love” with the more dire standard “Strange Fruit,” with Trible creating cubistic psalms over Beasley’s soft tide pools and mathematical chimes. They even paid tribute to current economic woes (which, as indie jazz musicians, they must feel quite acutely) with the closer, “Backlash Blues.” Four bars in, someone yelled from the audience: “I like it already!!”

Henry Grimes, with Olive Oil

The auditorium was dead quiet when Grimey & Co. shuffled out of the wings like gunfighting pilgrims. Grimes, dressed in baggy black pants, rumpled Hawaiian shirt and canary-yellow headband (his rotating headgear is like the jazz world’s version of the Bears' Jim McMahon), bent over the green-painted bass named “Olive Oil” (a gift from N.Y. loft vet William Parker) and started his knotty boxer’s hands dancing over the strings. This was the first of at least three improvisations that ranged from hellacious cacophony to near-silent meditation. The drama was heightened by the musicians (with minimal rehearsal and minimal direction) struggling across the tightrope together. It was 15 minutes before any kind of noticeable rhythm started and in that time Grimes switched from arco to pizzicato and then over to violin, while pianist Ben Rosenboom switched from the keyboard to the inner strings of the piano, Vinny Golia switched from baritone sax to clarinet to bass clarinet, Alex Cline switched from wire brushes to mallets to whatever else he had up his sleeve, and poor Dwight Trible (a last minute addition) switched from standing up to sitting down, as it appeared he was having difficulty fitting his vocals into the cracks of the ensemble’s intensity. But for intensity, one needed to look no further than the MVP of the evening Alex Cline, who towards the end of the set shattered the almost-quaint egalitarianism of the band by launching into a chest-rumbling and heavily caffeinated tribal beat that drew the rest of the players – even the maestro himself, who appeared not to once notice he had any bandmates – into its let’s-go-out-on-a-high-note sway.

Nels tears the Ford a new one
(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

If Saturday night was the feather tickling, Sunday evening at the Ford Amphitheatre was the motherlode of weirdness, the anti-Hollywood Bowl. The bicoastal quintet Kneebody played like a bunch of young punks who just came from a show at The Smell. Vinny Golia returned for some funkified cold fusion with a youthful ensemble culled from his CalArts students. (Did we actually catch Golia dancing a little onstage?!). Nels Cline practically stomped a hole in the stage floor as he and saxist Tim Berne and three-armed drummer Jim Black went for the apocalyptic orgasm in an entirely improvised set that included Berne’s siren-like wails that he muted by sticking an empty Arrowhead water bottle into the bell of his horn.
(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

Wadada Leo Smith, who also backed Mr. Grimes on Saturday and who likes to stand at the edge of his bands like a character in the margins of an old MAD magazine, led his Golden Quartet in a groove-tinged set with some powerful players, including hot keyboardist Vijay Iyer (whose own current Solos CD is getting rapturous buzz) and the bewitching John Lindberg, who ran his bass through a pedal and created an otherworldly and elongated sound I can only regrettably call “bowelly.” (This made the L.A. Times jazz critic Chris Barton laugh -- although thank god he didn't mention it in his review of the show.) With their serpentine interplay and clean, well-lighted songs, the quintet led by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (second son of John and Alice) and trumpeter Ralph Alessi tucked us into bed and kissed us on the cheek.

Ravi Coltrane/Ralph Alessi Quartet
(photo courtesy of Myles Regan)

The next night at Culver City's Royal/T Cafe was more of a cozy, family affair that mixed musical improvisation with multimedia flash and culinary wizardry courtesy of visiting chefs Paul Canales and Kelsey Bergstrom. (Indeed, Carol Kim's live video feeds of musicians and kitchen staff heightened the similarities between food and music—and further proved to me that chefs are the new DJs.) There was a metal tub packed with ice and stacked with bottles of Rahsaan Roland Kirk Dark Lager. There were silver multi-storied dishes of farmer’s market green beans and grissini dip. There were tablecloths, for god’s sake. All accompanied by the strangest dinner music we’ve ever heard, a true ebbing-and-flowing blast of West Coast airs anchored by the leadership of bassist Mark Dresser and pianist Myra Melford, who played a white mini-grand besmirched with subway graffiti, and brought to the brink by the butoh dance master Oguri, who squeezed himself between the banquet tables like that Tooms guy from The X Files. The Brothers Cline took a brief duo interlude during Dresser's "Rasa" that made one marvel at the talented womb they both were sprung from—and how ageless both seem when they are playing together. (Nels' recent collaborator and bride-to-be Yuka Honda was almost invisible behind Melford's piano, hunched over a tiny keyboard-sized piece of electronics called a Tenori-on.) The second set veered almost shockingly into verboten blues territory, with violinist Jeff Gauthier and Mark Dresser chasing each other in mad-stringed brotherhood. (I’m not sure of this, but some loud female voice kept yelling out “Mark Dresser! Yeah! Play it! Wooo!” during his solo, and I swear to God it might have been Ms. Melford, whom I’ve heard utter few words in person.) At the end of this wonderful evening, both Rocco and Jeff were spent but smiling. What do they know that we don’t?

Drawing by Deborah Drooz on my notebook
while I was in the Men's Room at the Royal/T

Check out the Ford performances on YouTube's Angel City Jazz TV page.