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Great interview here with Christopher Guest, who plays Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap and who directed Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind. I was surprised to learn that he's a British Lord, his half-brother is Anthony Haden-Guest, and if I can get even more gossipy, he's been married to Jamie Lee Curtis for 20 years. Here's one of my favorite monologues of his:
In Best In Show, Guest played Harlan Pepper, a solemn, lugubrious outdoorsman from South Carolina who bore an uncanny resemblance to his bloodhound Hubert and possessed a talent so absurd that it's hard to imagine anyone but Guest dreaming it up. In Pepper's words, "I used to be able to name every nut there was. And it used to drive my mother crazy. She would hear me in the other room, and she'd just start yelling. I'd say, 'Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Macadamia nut.' That was the one that would send her into going crazy. She'd say, 'Would you stop namin' nuts!' And Hubert used to be able to make the sound - he couldn't talk, but he'd go 'Rrrawr rrawr' and that sounded like macadamia nut. Pine nut, which is a nut, but it's also the name of a town. Pistachio nut. Red pistachio nut. Natural, all natural white pistachio nut."[via]
UPDATE: The Guardian's transcript of the monologue is abbreviated. Here's the full text (still missing some "awhhm"s as Harlan thinks of perfectly ordinary nuts, according to Bill):
I used to be able to name every nut that there was. And it used to drive my mother crazy, because she used to say, "Harlan Pepper, if you don't stop naming nuts," and the joke was that we lived in Pine Nut, and I think that's what put it in my mind at that point. So she would hear me in the other room, and she'd just start yelling. I'd say, "Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Macadamia nut." That was the one that would send her into going crazy. She'd say, "Would you stop naming nuts!" And Hubert used to be able to make the sound, he couldn't talk, but he'd go "rrrawr rrawr" and that sounded like Macadamia nut. Pine nut, which is a nut, but it's also the name of a town. Pistachio nut. Red pistachio nut. Natural, all natural white pistachio nut.
[The following links are for mp3 d0wnlo4ds at a site called http://www.progarchives.com. Most of the site seems to be devoted to neo-prog, which is 3rd and 4th generation progressive rock bands lamely taking their names from classic prog tunes or the usual Tolkien characters. I had a lot of fun making these love/hate links to old-school (1970-75) prog songs, but I must have stumbled onto a mirror site or "members-only" area that eight hours later could no longer be accessed. Or it may just be bandwidth issues. In any case, if one link doesn't work probably none of them do. Sadly (for me at least), this post may not be here long.
UPDATE: As of Jan. 14, the links are working again.
UPDATE 2: As of Feb. 2006, it appears the site no longer offers these .mp3s for download--ah, progress--so the links below don't work, but if you search the progarchives archive for the band names, you can stream the tracks.]
Gentle Giant - Playing the Game. GG weren't the only British progressive group introducing madrigals, rounds, jigs, and other folk devices into a rock context in the '70s (as well as the expected tricky time signatures, contrapuntal riffs, constantly changing instruments, etc.) but they perhaps went furthest in integrating all of the above into a hybrid form. Very brainy group, apparently fought amongst themselves like cats and dogs. "Cogs in Cogs" and "No God's a Man" are better from this album, The Power and the Glory, but this one's plenty fine.
Gentle Giant - Free Hand. More lovely complex writing, marred slightly by Derek Shulman's over-demonstrative rock star vocals.
Area - La Mela di Odessa. Jazzy and noisy Italian outing, a bit Henry Cow-ish, with a great James Brown funk groove at the end of the track. Demetrios Stratos' Leon Thomas-style yodel may be too much for some.
Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink. Veddy British. This is the most folky track posted here; a bit twee, but David Sinclair's Lowrey organ solo is worth waiting for and nothing his cousin, vocalist/bassist Richard (Sinclair) does is ever wrong. He is God. "We'll pick our fill of punkweed/And smoke it till we bleed/That's all we'll need."
Van Der Graaf Generator - Killer. Histrionic but musically amazing. Black Sab meets King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man," with quirky, complicated instrumental passages that just beggar description. Organ, sax, and Peter Hammill's melodramatic vocals are the lead instruments. Full disclosure: this is a song about killer fish.
Van Der Graaf Generator - Man-Erg. A quiet song, also about killers, erupts into the weirdest instrumental break ever written--a kind of demonic horror-movie klezmer. Once you know it you sing it in your sleep, while being chased by monsters. "There stalking in my cloisters hang the acolytes of gloom." Proto-Goth but too passionate for that label, really.
Triumvirat - Triangle. The German Emerson Lake & Palmer. This instrumental track is recommended if you like ELP but not Greg Lake's vocals. The keyboards are as good.
Magma - Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanik. Talk about high concept--all the Magma albums tell the story of an epic space opera, and they even invented their own language to sing it in. Orff's Carmina Burana and Philip Glass vocalese are big influences, sung over a jazzy background. Someone should put the soprano out of her misery, but this is probably the most sophisticated and least dated of the selections here.
King Crimson - Red. I take that back. This was from the King's heavy metal period, and it's absolutely fucking great.
Yes - Close to the Edge. All 18 minutes of it. We should be very grateful to Vincent Gallo for making Yes cool again, with his movie Buffalo 66. He used "Heart of the Sunrise" from Fragile but this is good also.
Sketches, recently animated, based on the movie Blade 2. Stills/movie review here.
Vigilante or Punisher?
Below is a synopsis, followed by some discussion, of an Alan Moore-scripted story for the DC comic book Vigilante (nos. 17-18, 1985), titled "Father's Day." Moore is the writer of Watchmen, From Hell, and other amazing graphic novels. Poor Vigilante had no legs compared to Marvel's The Punisher, a similar, rival comic from the '80s that is hitting the big screen this year. But Moore's comic makes me wish the reverse was true, and that Moore was still involved: despite its brutality, it has the ambiguous edge of '70s movies.
By day Adrian Chase prosecutes crooks for the county but after hours he pursues them extracurricularly as a costumed hero called Vigilante. In an earlier case of his, a man named Carl Linnaker raped his own 8-year old daughter. Chase put him away, we assume (but aren't specifically told), with a little help from the old alter ego.
Now Linnaker is out of prison. The book opens with Linnaker's wife telephoning Chase in a panic. While she is on the phone, Linnaker breaks down her door. Before Chase can get to her apartment, Linnaker stabs her to death. Their daughter Jodie, now 11, flees out the fire escape and upon reaching the street is nearly hit by a car.
The driver is a pot dealer named Fever, ferrying her half-drunk roommate Louise, a prostitute, across town. They are acerbic, sympathetic characters. Learning Jodie is being pursued by a psycho dad, they take her to their apartment.
The next morning the cop-shy Fever goes out for a meeting with Chase to discuss a place to hand over Jodie so the cops won't find Fever's dope stash. Chase shows up in his Vigilante guise. Hand to hand combat and verbal sparring ensue. Ultimately Vigilante agrees not to bust Fever if she'll just hand over the girl.
At the same time hung-over Louise foolishly makes a trip to the store to buy the kid breakfast. Linnaker tails Louise home from the market, knifes her, and snatches Jodie. Fever returns to the flat with Vigilante to discover her best friend and roommate bleeding to death on the floor. Distraught, she vows to avenge Louise.
Searching the back streets for Linnaker, Fever is more savvy than the uptight Vigilante. She has better luck questioning neighborhood people and laughs when his fancy motorbike is stripped for parts while chained to a lamppost. As they continue their search--Fever driving and Vigilante riding in the back after she almost ditches him--she kids him mercilessly about his moral rectitude. One of her girlfriends sees them and asks if he's G.I.B (good in bed). Fever replies "He's OK if you put a bag over his politics." Later, this exchange takes place:
Meanwhile, Linnaker makes plans to drive to the Adirondacks with Jodie, whom he obviously adores. In voiceover we hear him reading excerpts from the tender letters he wrote her from prison, pleading for her not to think of him as a monster. In the car, he frets that her mother has "turned her against him." With the child in tow, he steals a pistol from a gun store, then pushes the proprietor's head through the glass display case.
As Linnaker's car is pulling out of the store parking lot, Fever spots him and Vigilante shoots out his tires. Linnaker flees on foot, taking Jodie with him. Vigilante catches up with him and the two fight. Jodie screams for them to stop. Linnaker drops his gun and Jodie picks it up. Then, surprisingly, she takes aim and shoots, not Linnaker, but Vigilante, in the shoulder. Before Linnaker can grab Jodie again Fever comes around a corner, hits him with her car, and in an act of cold premeditation, locks the rear wheels on her 4WD vehicle and makes a mess of him with the spinning front tires.
At the end of the story, Jodie is taken to the hospital (in shock). Fever kisses Vigilante before leaving town, which she must do to avoid explaining 40 kilos of marijuana found in the apartment with her dead roommate. Chase returns to his flat, nursing his bandaged shoulder, and as he is taking off his costume we hear the voice of the dead Linnaker reading more excerpts from his gentle prison letters to Jodie.
OK, let's count the ways this story is subversive: (1) Vigilante is a peripheral character, and kind of a buffoon (2) Two females, operating "outside the law," are strong, smart, sympathetic leads; the one who survives is cleverer than Vigilante (3) The child molester loves his daughter (4) More troubling, the daughter loves him and uses violence to protect him (5) Just as our sympathies are vacillating because of the daughter's unexpected if misplaced feelings for her father, we watch her become an orphan (as does she) in a spectacularly sadistic fashion. This is played as black comedy. By contrast, the upcoming Hollywood Punisher appears from the trailer to be a typical, by-the-numbers Xtreme Revenge fantasy.
This may be old news to some, but I recently came across a great website, Japander, as in Japanese+pander. It consists of streaming videos of the commercials American celebs who would never sully their images in the States do over there for bucks. Like Bill Murray's "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time," only for real. See Harrison Ford guzzling Kirin beer, or a Labyrinth-era Jennifer Connelly advertising some dildo-shaped container of hair goo. (Requires Quicktime.) Not everyone likes this site; posted there is a copy of a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyer of super-square Leo di Caprio (stuffy Meg Ryan also threatened suit).
Left: my lo-res, "remixed" clip of Rebecca Allen's Kraftwerk video Musique Non Stop, a pop-cultural landmark from 1986. The video was actually completed in 1983-4; Allen visited Kling Klang studios and hung out with Ralf, Florian, et al in Dusseldorf. They shipped their dummy heads to New York and she did the computer modeling at the Institute of Technology there. No slouch, Allen is another pioneer figure sadly overlooked in the Whitney's lousy "BitStreams" exhibition. Check out her website, which now has streaming video of some of her other projects, including the video wall for the Palladium in 1985, Twyla Tharp's "Catherine Wheel" projections, and more recent work such as "Bush Soul #3" (no, not that Bush), where clever science fictional extrapolation manages to overcome the overall new age-y aura.
The following are character descriptions from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents website. The comic book series, developed by old EC hand Wally Wood, ran in the mid-60s under the obscure Tower comics imprint. A strange synthesis of the DC and Marvel styles with the pervasive acronymania of period espionage stories (U.N.C.L.E., S.H.I.E.L.D., et al) the strip was perhaps too thoughtful and melancholic to survive long. The writing below--Stan Lee meets Hemingway by way of Thurber minus the humor--gives a good sense of the dilemmas of morality and mortality Wood & Co. posed. Here's the setup: "A United Nations team counterattacks the assault on Professor Jennings' lab. Although the enemy is driven off, the man with the greatest mind in the world is found dead. In the wreckage of the famous scientists' lab, however, are several one-of-a-kind inventions," which are worn by the series characters, turning them into flawed superheroes:
What was it about that belt? It was truly amazing. It had powers. It would make the wearer incredibly dense, the density of hardened steel. Muscle power far greater than ten of the strongest men on the planet rolled into one. But only on a temporary basis. And at a cost. The life force of the wearer would be strained. The strongest man could only wear it for thirty minutes before complete exhaustion. Len Brown was the agent of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. who got that belt. Every evil organization wanted that belt...or wanted the one wearing it destroyed.
A cloak that imparted complete invisibility with a turn of a switch. But it was more than just the cloak. It was what the cloak hid underneath. To give legs to his aging body, NoMan was actually an android with the brain signature of Professor Dunn. But not just one android. Many expensive androids were made, and the mind of Professor Dunn could transfer into any one of those android bodies in a moment's notice - but only one android at a time. NoMan was human. NoMan was machine. Torn between the two, perhaps forever. Androids are machines first, and capable of failure. If NoMan, the combination of man and machine, were to fail without Professor Dunn transferring his mind out, his mind would be lost forever.
Guy Gilbert makes that suit work. Its mechanism, triggered by the dial on his chest, speeds up everything for Guy. Lightning in a bottle. His top speed is really unknown. While the suit multiplies his speed, it also has a deadly drawback: It also multiplies his metabolism. Every time Guy uses the suit and becomes Lightning, the suit ages every cell in his body. Some people shorten their lifespan by smoking tobacco. Guy has shortened his by wearing the suit. The fastest man on Earth. Running away from his own demise. The faster he runs, the faster his doom chases him.
The helmet created Menthor. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was riddled with a variety of enemy agents. John Janus was one of them. Putting on the helmet was a major triumph of espionage, and it was just as great a failure of that same spying. Besides the apparent incredible telekinetic and telepathic powers of the helmet, there were the changes to the wearer to consider. As the helmet is used, the wearer's personality is affected. At first, it only happened when the helmet is worn. But the effects eventually lasted longer. Janus had planned to do great damage to T.H.U.N.D.E.R.; he was an agent for S.P.I.D.E.R., an evil organization. But for some reason, while wearing the helmet, his evil side was suppressed. Good. Bad. How deep inside a man's brain lies the human soul? The helmet can transmit the powers of the mind into action. The helmet seems to also transmute the human soul as well. The wearer can be converted from evil to good. And that has to be the strongest power of all.
A few political odds and ends here. Stan Goff reminds us that Dr. Dean's prescription of "bringing in the UN" or the Arab League to run Iraq is pretty much hooey as long as we're fighting a guerrilla war there. "You fucked it up, you fixed it" is going to be the world's attitude. Either way, why is it for non-Iraqi institutions to determine the country's future (other than us paying reparations for invading without cause)? Are the Iraqis kids? Goff reminds us that Nixon beat the so-called antiwar candidate in 1972, but it was the antiwar movement that ended the war. He lays out a credible Green critique of the globalist agenda that I agree with almost entirely, but I'll still vote for whatever lyin' blowhard and corporate shill the Dems put up, to be rid of the unctuous Jesus freaks and war loons currently in office.
Goff alludes to the Twilight Years of the Gasoline Economy we're currently living through (how long will it take Gaia recover after we've burned all the fuel?), and James Howard Kunstler eloquently indicts the unbalanced cities we've built for ourselves in such an economy. A constant theme of his Architectural Eyesore of the Month (page back through all of them--it's worth it) is how the automobile dominates planning priorities, giving us ugly homes, parks, and workplaces. I lived in the Washington DC 'burbs for a few years and it got to be heartbreaking watching developers tear out yet another chunk of forest to make room for some crap-ass subdivision, with big fuel-guzzling houses accessible only by fuel-guzzling autos. I flew over Atlanta recently and felt like crying for the same reason. Our slash-and-burn lifestyle is just nuts.
Nothwithstanding the above (and apropos of the bloodsucking theme in the upper left corner), the most potent issue in the coming campaign should be so-called outsourcing of jobs. Here's an article about CPA firms sending tax-preparation work to India. One might argue that the trend makes sense economically if it weren't for the record salaries upper managers are paying themselves. Keep pushing it, guys, you're really gonna enjoy the view from the lampposts you'll be swinging from in a few years.