Wednesday, November 28, 2007

don't look back ... in anger

Went to see the new Todd Haynes Dylan extravaganza, “I’m Not There” last weekend.


And, I am hoping to see it again soon.

It might be up there with “Ray” for me (and that's saying a lot)…an absolutely brilliantly imaginative, dizzying approach that dramatizes the life of an extremely well-known musician (icon, really) who seemed almost untouchable. Haynes succeeds at making someone as enigmatic, reclusive and misanthropic as Bob Dylan accessible, raw and vulnerable (at moments). Simultaneously, he upholds the legendary status and the mythology that Dylan, himself, created. You could say the movie has some layers going on...

I thought it was fucking brilliant and crazy. And it *looked* so damn cool. There’s a few scenes, one in particular, recreating London in the 60s that so perfectly captures the look and the vibe of everything I’ve ever seen documented from that time and place—it felt like a perfectly preserved slice of life. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more attention to detail, or “feel” than this film in that way.

Using the 6 different actors (Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Richard Gere), Haynes was taking a major risk--no doubt. But, the thing is, he's a fucking brilliant director and he knows what he's doing. Although it is *sprawling*--it's never too chaotic or cluttered. The segues between times, places and the characters portraying Dylan are seamless and sublime--the editing is sweet and neat.

I was lucky enough to have a CSCL prof in college who was in love with Todd Haynes and everything he stood for. He made us watch "Poison" and "Safe" in class (he was so gay and so radical and so cool. sigh.) which, of course, caused me to watch "Velvet Goldmine," and "Far from Heaven" and then promptly fall in deeply in love with the flaming, oddball rebel.

Marcus Carl Franklin, an adorable, mature, talented young boy, does a doozy of a job playing a, yes, *version* of Dylan as a young runaway who is enamoured with the Dust Bowl era and calls himself Woody Guthrie (yep, just like Zimmy did as well as Strummer). He does an amazing job of capturing the sly, myth-making, tall-tale-tellin' ways of Early Talkin' Blues Dylan and is part of one of the most amazing scenes of the film. The only bit that brought me to the brink of tears--where the young lad visits a dying Woody Guthrie in NYC. The actor that plays the folk rebel legend looks astonishingly like him and it was a trip to imagine a similar scene taking place when Dylan actually made that pilgrimage to see the dying Guthrie. Another powerful and musically thunderous scene: lil' Woody playing "Tombstone Blues" with a couple of ol' black blues men on a porch. Totally anachronistic. Totally makes sense and had me stompin' my foot.

The beautiful Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a super-earnest version of Dylan in his "Times Are A-Changin'" phase as well as the latter-day born-again Christian Dylan. The only real gem for me was seeing the recreation of that stunning footage of Dylan do a benefit show with the faces of older black men in overalls in a field. The voice we hear is that of one of Minnesota's finest: Mason fucking Jennings. Trippy. Awesome.

The only one that didn’t sit quite right with me was the idea of the film actor character of later-era (Blood On the Tracks-era) Heath Ledger. Although it provided some wrenching moments of insight to the break--up of his marriage and a searing use of "Idiot Wind" to give the complete feel of disintegration of love (perhaps one of the most brutally hateful songs that I could actually admit to enjoying for some sick reason).

Another weak point was the (unobtrusive, thank goodness) ineffectual Whishaw doing “Arthur Rimbould” as a version of (the poet, yeah, kinda) Dylan being interrogated by a “committee” that resembles the questions that the press fired at a young Dylan in the beginning of his career. The bits of his monologues come quickly and serve as a little, messy quote-machine and not much more.

The haggard (but fitting choice) of Richard Gere as Billy the Kid-survived/cowboy Dylan is a strange departure, but still serves as a good tool to play off the kinda of stories of a post-motorcycle crash mythology.

The stunning, the brilliant, the dead-on, (and the actress I most admire right now) Cate Blanchett doing Dylan in 1965 London mode...and it is........Wow. Wow. Wow. I never, for a moment, questioned her portraying him. In fact, her still-present feminine presence is just right. At that time, Dylan was popping speed and was a tiny, slip of a man. The nice, white skin and cool, sexy cheekbones were there, too (Blanchett comes in with those traits--nicely). Her mannerisms are perfect, not overdone. Her attitude is just right, and she brings a sensitive, empathetic actor's (artist's, actually) portrayal to the idea of Bob Dylan we've only seen glimpses of in "Don't Look Back" and "No Direction Home." She nails it. At times, she strips away that surly, sinewy anger and angst and reveals a real kid, someone who is bewildered by fame and examination. It's truly a revelation.

During that era and those scenes I was treated to those bigger-than-life moments that I have been reading about for years. Although I am definitely a fan of the man and his music, I do not consider myself any kind of Dylanoligist. But, I certainly have picked up a lot of tidbits from the magazine gems like Mojo and Uncut, among other various sources that musicheads like me devour. Some of my favorite bits were the visual or dramatic references not only to specific life moments but also the fantastic rendering of song lyrics and images. That was so much fun for me to soak up.

The life bits were amazing to see on the big screen, too. Most notably for me was seeing those two crucial, infamous moments that are the stuff of pop culture legend. When we see Cate-as-Bob take the stage at a "version" of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival we see a quick peak into a perfect metaphoric rendering of what took place: Bob and the boys open fire with real (imagined) machine guns on the unsuspecting folk-fanatics. In the very next moment we see a rendering of the real event, as they rip (LOUD) into "Maggie's Farm" and the disgusted, pained faces of the folkies plugging their ears and booing. We see a Pete Seeger-character wield an ax over his head threatening to cut the cables bringing the "evil" sounds of "mainstream" and "corny" rock music to the kids. Subsequently, they show the London theatre where a kid stood up and shouted "Judas!"
to the stage. Cate-as-Bob sneers, "I don't belieeeeve you." I fucking ate it up!! I love it. To see
this all played out, so imaginatively, both playful and intense, was a thrilling movie-going experience.

Hearing the MUSIC was also what truly got me off. The great covers, by Jennings, John Doe (my boyfriend), the Black Keys, and, at the end, a stunningly beautiful arrangement of Knockin' On Heaven's Door by the great and spooky Antony and the Johnsons
--killer. But, what's most fun, as silly and obvious as it might sound, is to hear the man himself sing his own songs throughout the film. It sounds bigger and better than ever, because it's the first time I've *heard* that shit on the big screen. You know what I mean. It's rad and it hits your whole body. Hard.

Seeing Bob Dylan, the icon, being remembered, honored, criticized and examined in such an artful, obsessive and detailed manor is just about the best kinda smack you can offer a popculturejunkie like me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


My brain can barely process this.

The Verve to headline Glastonbury 2008?

Richard Ashcroft says it will be a 'travesty' if they don't
3 hours ago
The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft wants the band to headline Glastonbury 2008.

The star insisted it would be a "travesty" if they didn't take centre stage at the event - though the recently-reformed band faces serious competition for one of the coveted slots.
Speaking to XFM, Ashcroft said: "I think it would be a travesty if we didn't. Because I think what's missing from a lot of the headliners is we're one of the few bands that can jam without sounding like Lynyrd Skynyrd on a bad night, so we can actually take people on a proper journey, rock 'n' roll-wise.

He added: "I think that's what's great. If you can do that on the big stage, the big tunes can get 60,000 people singing but you've also got the capacity to change a standard rock gig into something else.

"I suppose that's what's been exciting about playing and we'll be excited about playing then."
Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis was spotted at one of the band's London Roundhouse shows last week (November 6), fuelling speculation the band will play the event for the first time since 1995.

However, Emily's dad and festival boss Michael Eavis recently told NME.COM seven acts were in contention for the three Pyramid Stage headline slots.

Acts who could be in contention include Muse, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, REM, Led Zeppelin and Kylie Minogue.

The 2008 bash takes place between June 27 and 29

Monday, November 05, 2007

"...ain't no sin to be glad you're alive"

First, a caveat: writing about Bruce Springsteen is simultaneously the most exuberant and daunting thing a music head/Springsteen head/music writer can do. Whew. So there.

Last Friday night marked my 9th time seeing the greatest rock performer alive in front of the greatest rock and roll band to rove the planet.

After hours of being in various holding cells (with some free time to bop around downtown St Paul) my dad, Fitzy and I (along with our various Springsteen characters/friends who would weave their way in and out of our evening) were thrust into that magical pit of pits...(I always think of good ol' Rancid. "See you in the pit" was inscribed on every album's liner notes, y'see...more on that later.)

When you're that close, see, when those lights that are shining on the stage are also shining on's another reality. Another *realm*. The energy, the adrenaline, the electricity in the air is so fucking powerful--you feel that you and those 18,999 other people surrounding you could power a city...or elect a just president...or take over the world...

On the Daily Show, about a week ago, John Stewart did a rare thing and opened on a personal note. He told the audience that he had gone out last night and seen a show...and it was "The greatest night of my life." He then added, rhetorically, "Do you like Joy? Are you a fan of Joy?" (clip can be found on Fitzy's touching, brilliant review that finds the recent convert gushing about his experience...) He gets it.

So, I will say first that, music for me is as important as any human relationship I have and as important as eating food to function, etc. I do not kid. I mean it. Anyone who knows me, knows this is true. (And hell, if you're reading this, you fucking better well know that. You're probably sick to death of reading that. heh.) My father raised me all by himself and it's one of the things that closely bonded us. Every since he took my to my first concert at age 2 1/2, live shows have been one of the only things in life I look forward to with unprecedented *joy*. Every close friend I've ever had has also been a freak for music in some way. It's usually a key subject of conversation... And it's one of the most magical (and consistent) things I can share with the man I'm in love with. Music permeates my mind and my life--everyday.

OK--after saying that, Bruce Springsteen shows are the Ultimate Affirmation of all that love and all that music worship. The ultimate showman, the ultimate crowd participation and the ultimate changed state of mind once you leave the venue.

At first, tension abounded as all the diehards who had been waiting for hours were getting antsy and testy. You can't blame us for feeling restless, but some were more feisty than others and, for a brief moment, my whole excitement level was threatened by some majorly petty bullshit that was surrounding me. (Basically people getting shove-y and territorial. Hell, I was territorial--no doubt.)

But, of course, as you can imagine... as soon as the stage surged with life, that radiant presence and glorious sound--all pettiness must be forgotten. That is *not* to say I felt a tangible camaraderie with my fellow Springsteen lovers. Although you share that space and you're singing at the top of your lungs with these strangers, it's not necessarily about a community with each other, it's more about taking it all in. Truly, everyone is so absorbed with the Big Show, it's not exactly Rancid at First Avenue. But that's OK. Because, as you look around you (which you are bound to do: the lights are bright, as I mentioned) and above you, to the rafters, it becomes a point of visual interest: EVERYONE is fucking INTO it. Everyone has their arms in the air, their fists pumping. People are dancing, they're bopping, they're hopping--we're talking ages 8 to 83 (and you know I ain't kiddin'). Every face you see is covered by a child-like grin, and, most importantly, everyone is totally absorbed with the show. With the man himself and that hard-working, dazzling rock band that works their collective ass off, along side him.

The set itself was a work of art. Springsteen kicked it into high gear right away using his standard, pulse-affirming shout, "Is there anybodayy ALIVE out there!!!????" that he usually waits for at least an hour before pulling out. Of course it was appropriate due to the song "Radio Nowhere" where he finally uses his Phrase in a song. Perfect.

But, I think something else happened for me. It was, I can safely say, the most *intense*, emotionally powerful experiences I have EVER had seeing Bruce Springsteen. (and that's saying a lot.)

It just might be the political climate (uh, yeah). It might be because the last time I saw the E Street Band, it was Vote For Change and since then, things got a lot worse. This time was a muthafuckin' RECKONING, as they say... The whole show, Bruce seemed very aware and almost taken aback by the crowds unprecedented hunger and appreciation. He actually said, "We didn't expect all this FUSS!" which to me meant, "We sure didn't expect Minnesota to act like New fucking Jersey!" And, despite Patti's absence (total bummer!) Bruce seemed in lifted spirits. He was grinning like a kid, and totally *flirty* with the ladies in the crowd! Making the eyes at 'em, raising those eyebrows and shit! Cute.

There was more Strummer-like *anger* in Bruce than I had ever seen before. When he spat out "Badlands" and he sang one of my fave lines of all time: "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive," it had more URGENCY than ever before. The crowd ate it up. They were fucking starving and rabid for it. When he hit us with that carefully constructed (that's why it's not TOTALLY punk...) whammy of "The Rising," into "Last to Die," into "Long Walk Home," into "Badlands," it was a straight-up narrative that spoke to every person in that arena. It addressed the last 6 years of American life we have been entrenched in and watching in nothing else can: with forceful, poetic language, killer rock music and 19, 000 "regular" people *participating* in the musical act of art meets political rally. As he always says, *we* get to *join* Bruce and the band in concert. We're part of it.

And as I saw Bruce sweat, spit, blow snot forcefully out of his nose and bite into a wet sponge to douse his neck and quench his thirst quickly, I thought, yeah--Bruce is total punk as fuck, dude. There just ain't no doubt about it. I mean, I always knew that he loved the Clash and Stummer loved Springsteen, but here it was the clearest I had seen. Jim punched me in the arm (as he tends to do..that punk) and just looked at me wide-eyed and said "Strummer. So Strummer."

Yeah, yeah, I know I said that about seeing Madge, too. But it's so true. It's attitude and the key elements I NEED in a concert that changes me and my outlook on life: *sweaty, bouncy, glee* as it's happening--just being involved in that passionate, purposeful music that's a blast to move your body to. Fucking pogo, please. (Bruce did! Jim and I took great delight in that)

Back to that set list... lordy, was it a trip to hear those opening, rat-a-tat-tat drums by Max explode into "Night"! I don't think I had ever seen them do it, I love that damn song.'s hard to admit this..."Dancing in the Dark," following the exuberant, full-on crowd participatory-lights-on-"Born to Run," was sheer BRILLIANCE. I could not deny its pop power. The way people were dancing, *gleefully* like fools just cannot be beat, I tell ya. I've had a new outlook on that song ever since I saw Ted Leo do it at First Ave, anyway. Makes me happy. And, I really didn't think it was possible...but...when I looked over at Fitzy and saw him pumping his fist in the air to "Badlands," or smiling in awe, or dancing up a storm...I think I fell in love with him AND Bruce's music just a lil' more.

Oh, and then there was "Thunder Road." Used to be my fave song of all time. Only the second time he's played it on this tour. It was a "request" he told us. A young woman ( several other beautiful woman around us) next to me kept rubbing her arm. Her goosebumps just wouldn't go away. She wasn't alone with that problem.

At the bitter end, Bruce shouted, "Long live happiness!" and it seemed unscripted. It was, of course, exactly what everyone was thinking as they stumbled out, sweaty and dazed... re-energized to face the real world and all its troubles...and just ...happy.

here's the full Setlist:

Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Reason to Believe
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Your Own Worst Enemy
Incident on 57th Street
Working on the Highway
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
American Land

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Life always.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made me glad to be alive like almost NOTHING else in this world can.

here's what Backstreets had to say, for starters: (my words to follow soon)

11/2, ST. PAUL
A fun, high-energy show for a great crowd in the Twin Cities, which went nuts when necessary and quiet when called for (and it was called for, Bruce shushing the crowd a few times for the "Reason to Believe" harp intro). A bunch of teenagers were right up front, and Springsteen seemed to be having a great time playing to them. Basically, it was a classic example of what Bruce means when he talks about the crowd and performer being "in concert": He was into the crowd, they were into him, and they just fed off each other. Setlist-wise, nothing to raise eyebrows, no tour premieres... but "Incident on 57th Street" was an amazing performance, they played the pants off it. Garry Tallent in particular was a wonder to behold as the song's solid bedrock. Going from "Incident" into the all-out goofiness of "Working on the Highway" was the epitome of "from the sublime to the ridiculous"... but it worked. Garry even stepped up for backing vocals on "Highway" -- go Funky!

Other notables: "Gypsy Biker" was an early stand-out, as was "Reason." No Patti tonight, so Soozie once again took over the "Magic" duet. And "Thunder Road" still has life in it yet, played by "special request" -- with Bruce wielding the Fender Esquire from there into "Born to Run." Kudos to management and security at the Xcel Center for a phenomenal job with the GA process; especially considering there were 1,135 fans wristbanded for the lottery, the entry was organized, orderly, safe and smooth. That certainly didn't hurt the vibe in the arena. "Thank you, Twin Cities. You've been a fantastic audience," Bruce said at the close of the show, and he offered a benediction: "Long live happiness!" And as the lights came up and fans read what was on the screens, there was one more thing to be happy about: "Bruce returns March 16. Tickets on sale November 10 at 10 a.m."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Live a way

I got a shock of a night for Halloween. An extremely pleasant one.

Fitzy and I saw Gov't Mule at the O'Shaughnessy last night and there was buzz that one of their sets was going to be the Zep album, "Houses of the Holy" played all the way through.


I was so not expecting that.

Now, I'd heard some of those brilliant Phish Halloween album-cover-tributes before...and I had always wanted to experience a band playing an entire album the whole way through...LIVE. Granted, the first time I saw the Who the were doing their "Quadrophenia" tour. That was quite a thrill... My only real other whole-album-straight-through would be the magical experience I had of seeing my friend John play with a hodge-podge of musicians from the local bands Self Evident and (his old band) Align crank out The Police's "Synchronicity" in a dingy basement. I still bore my loved ones with that tired (but close to my musical heart) story.

Anyway--sure enough, as the second set began, the Mule busted out "The Song Remains the Same," and...I shit you not...Warren Haynes did his very best Robert Plant impression and...I was impressed. Now, he didn't *sound* like him, exactly--he just did the songs (and Mr. Plant) justice. Rock and roll justice. Also, standing beside Haynes was a tall, lanky feller with a curly fro. He was doing an AMAZING Jimmy Page guitar tribute, my friends. Those ever-so-familiar songs (that have been imprinted in my brain since the age of 14, mind you) are like gospel to me and man, did this guy know his shit. I just kept thinking, this guy must've *learned* to play the fucking guitar to Zeppelin records. For real. So, I had to tap the shoulder of the headbanging gentleman in front of me to find out who the fuck this guitar prodigy was. It was a name I had never heard before and what a name it is: Audley Freed of Black Crowes fame. Mr. Freed continued to amaze and dazzle and later Haynes told the crowd that he had flown in just to play that set for us and that was that. Dang.

I was a happy fucking camper. It was pure joy to see those songs on a theatre stage as intimate as O'Shaughnessy's and I took delight in singing along with every word and flailing my hair as much as possible.

Now...can we get the Lads to do "London Calling"? Who can I put a request in to for that...?

P.S. Tomorrow... I see Bruce Springsteen. 'Nuff said.