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Archive for November, 2008

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stephen_leacockChuck Palahniuk’s Rant was the last novel I had the pleasure of devouring. And that was nearly four months ago. Like Chinese food, I think literature too can get a bit redundant over a period of time. This morning as I was reading The Mutt, I stumbled upon the word “Peacock” in a quirky piece called BIC HOK TAM …and for obviously limmericky reasons, I got reminded of Canadian writer and humourist Stephen Leacock.

I first heard of Leacock during those years of utter boredom in Loyola College when Bertram Hall and its library gave me solace from the sociopathic monkeys I had to mingle with during class hours. Granted the Loyola library had more cobwebs per square metre than it had decent books, but still if one looked hard enough, a fantastically obscure piece of literature was always around the corner. I came across a collection of short stories titled Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock. Three days later, the Great Group Email Frenzy of 2000 began as I couldn’t help but copy and paste Leacock’s tremendously funny anecdotes on hotmail and send them to as many people as I could.

Not many people read Leacock these days. In fact, most of them are convinced that Hector Hugh Munroe is the funniest short story writer that ever was. Well, Saki’s short stories could dance circles around O’Henry any day of the week, but I would still consider them a work in progress when compared to Leacock’s archive. Not that it matters too much, but the titles of his stories are way more intriguing than any of Dog Fashion Disco song titles; unless someone is of the opinion that Valley Girl Ventriloquist sounds cooler than than Hellements of Hickonomics In Hiccoughs Of Verse Done In Our Social Planning Mill.

My Remarkable Uncle and Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town are my personal favourites, and Sorrows Of A Super Soul Or The Memoirs Of Marie Mushenough is probably the funniest short story ever written.

And muchos gracios to www.online-literature.com for having online copies of his Stephen Leacock’s works. You can read them here.

Wiki says a rumour spread in 1911 that said, “more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada”…well, fast-forward to 2008 when public relations consultant Terry Fallis won the Stephen Leacock medal for a friggin’ political satire.

I guess, the world just isn’t funny as it used to be.

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800px-batman_turkeyExcerpts from an article that appeared in the MSNBC website…

The mayor of the real city of Batman — an oil-producing city in southeast Turkey — is reportedly suing “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros.

“There is only one Batman in the world,” Kalkan said. “The American producers used the name of our city without informing us.” Kalkan claims he has evidence, which will show the city of Batman was founded before the 1939 debut of Bob Kane’s DC Comics superhero by the same name.

Excerpts from my mind…

What the fuck?

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A pocketful of flashy fun

pocket-tanksI trash-talk while playing flash games with my office colleagues. I think there’s a special place in hell reserved for me.

Anyway, Pocket Tanks rules in so many ways.

Download it and you’ll see an entirely new perspective on the concept of working overtime.

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9780786267538I am an arrogant person. Most people who know me really well would testify to that. Maybe it’s my presumption that I am more perceptive than almost everyone else or perhaps it has something to do with how monstrous my ego can be. Whatever it is, it seriously inhibits me from appreciating new forms of art that my fellow brethren (and soul sistas!) have discovered before I did.

But I’m thinking that it’s not entirely my fault; especially with respect to movies. I have been exposed to a plethora of horrid films over the years that came with very high recommendations from friends. Citizen Kane, Unforgiven, Cold Creek Manor, The Air I Breathe, As Good As It Gets, and pretty much any film by Akira Kurosawa – each of them came with a recommendation tag but ended up being thoroughly disappointing. Jerry comes with some decent recommendations every now and then, as the ninja from Darjeeling once did. But it was never enough to become a habit.

During my yearlong stint in one of those online marketing firms in Bangalore, I met Vivek Pinto – a mild-mannered Manglorean, quiz master, blogger, film enthusiast and probably the most versatile writer I have worked with. During the first few weeks, I gave him a really difficult time with my alarming lack of understanding of the industry and terms such as “data warehousing” and “enterprise application management.” Like the workhorse that he is, Pinto even picked away at my brain until I stopped being stubborn about getting Jack Kerouac to sell Wipro’s IT solutions and started using words like “best-in-breed”, “cost-effectiveness” and whatnot. Soon enough, we recognized each other’s undeniable qualities as film geeks, which eventually led to the very first time I had a thorough discussion about David Cronenberg without the other person looking quizzically at me in utter dread.

For the next 11 months, from Monday to Friday, we talked about films. Our favourite thread of discussion often centered on Werner Herzog, Roger Ebert and American Indie culture. The geekdom further gained credibility with the inclusion of D – Bangalore’s version of The Talented Mr Ripley – in our morning discussions.

7184pngSo a month ago, Pinto calls me frantically in one of his “dude, you have to watch this or you will suffer a terrible death that even Beelzebub wouldn’t wish upon his enemies” tones. He told in length about this television drama series called Dexter. Based on Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the series chronicled the life and times of Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter analyst working for the Miami Police Department. But what he really does is track down serial killers and wreak bloody havoc on them. Despite it’s outwardly quasi-Seventies film noir vibe, Pinto assured me that it was anything but that.

I think I’ll take a rain check on elaborating further on Dexter since Pinto’s alter ego – Papa Bear – would do a better job at that. In fact, he already has. Read his review here. He was also nice enough to send me copies of Season 1 and 2 and after seeing the debut episode, well, I can safely say that I am thoroughly intrigued. It seems to have everything that made Six Feet Under fantastic…melancholy, claustrophobia, great music and actors who know when they have to take themselves seriously.

To paraphrase Ebert…Thumbs way, way up.

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Conjuring up the spirit that inspired Kat Williams to tell us that people like Steve Irwin, and James Brown were indeed “gangsters”, I’d like to mourn the death of another such man.

Rest in peace, Sir M.N Nambiar …you truly were a motherfucking “gangster.”

Respect

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In life, there are quite a few certainties in life. For instance, it is always ironic. And you can bet your ass that you will learn more from your first day at the job that you would have from three years of college. Art too has certainties without which it will probably be better off, but that’s a story for another day. When it comes to films, you can be sure of a lot of things. For example, About Schmidt will remain the finest testament to Jack Nicholson’s talent and Charlie Kaufman is the best scriptwriter in Hollywood bar none. It would also be safe to assume that Wolf Creek is the best Australian outback film ever made.

With the sheer enormity of its content, it might be a bit foolhardy to make the same assumptions about music. But there are a few undeniable cases. For instance, there is no denying that Nina Simone had the loveliest voice that side of the Atlantic. Or how Beach Boys made some of the most melodious pop music that ever was. Also I believe that Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War” will reign supreme as the greatest chetatkinstommyemmanuel-thedayfingeprotest song ever written.

Last week, another such certainty crawled up to my ears. I heard what I think is the best Beatles’ cover of all time.

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Tommy Emmanuel & Jake Shimabukuro – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Tommy Emmanuel – an Australian guitarist known for his intricate fingerpicking style and Jake Shimabukuro – a Japanese American ‘madcap’ ukulele player with his roots in freestyle jazz – performed this version of George Harrison’s classic at some random concert in Sydney.

The Beatles crafted harmonies that were ridiculously simple and just as effective. I’d prefer The Rolling Stones to the Fab Four any day of the week, but still I can’t help but have a ton of respect for their dedication to create pitch-perfect melodies.jakeshimabukuro_11

Through the ages, musicians have covered them to hell and back. Right from Joe Cockers blistering version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and Aretha Franklin’s awesome rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” to a really weird cover of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by William Shatner and Siouxsie Sioux’s gothic take on “Dear Prudence”, diversity has been the keyword when it comes to Beatles’ covers.

Emmanuel & Shimabukuro’s instrumental cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is stunning with its simplicity. If Jimi Hendrix got brainwashed Don Felder and drank Absinthe through a ukulele, he might approve of this. And that can never be a bad thing.

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250px-rezso_seressWhen it comes to appreciating art, I have the attention span of a twitchy goldfish. Sometimes it’s a good thing…especially when it imbibes in me a glorious urge to explore all genres of music. But sometimes it prevents me from discovering the roots of all the sounds and noises that have so far shaped my aural tastes. For instance, about a year ago when I stumbled upon the legend of “Gloomy Sunday”, I posted an entry and promptly forgot about it. For those who don’t know, Hungarian composer Rezső Seress recorded Szomorú Vasárnap – the original version. Pretty soon rumours started circulating about how hordes of ill-fated lovers were committing suicide after listening to the song. Years later, of course Billie Holiday covered it in 1991 and gave it a soul twist like only she can.

456px-ladydayHowever, after reading about its dubious origins, I downloaded the original version of the song and…well, I would have given my left arm to know what inspired the composer to delve so far into his messed-up psyche. While Billie Holiday’s version remains the most easily accessible renditions of one of history’s darkest symphonies, it certainly wasn’t the most potent. Even Rezső Seress’s original composition wasn’t the most chilling version.

At least it was until yesterday.

Last night, as I was searching for Big Maybelle on Youtube, I came across a heap of versions of “Gloomy Sunday”. Included in the list of musicians who have been inspired enough to cover the song were Elvis Costello, Diamanda Galás, The Smithereens and others. After spending a good hour listening to as many versions as I possibly could, I have decided that renditions put forth by Bjork, Cathy Davey and Marie-Louise Damien were the finest of the lot.

bjork2Bjork has a way with music that lends her to toy with its permutations, without ever having to cultivate the annoying habit of being different just to be different. There is something so attractive about her craziness that you almost want to stuff her into your shirt pocket and show her off at jazz festivals. This version – released as a live cut in the year 2000 – is a stunning yet scary hypothesis of what might have happened if Bjork was born in Chicago during the 1920s when jazz was hot as the burning sweat that trickled down the foreheads of those playing it in blues bars and soul kitchens. It was more than just haunting; it was the stuff that angels with fractured jaws and salty tears were made of.

3700368441022I was really surprised to find French singer Marie Damien’s 1936 version of it on YouTube considering how bloody rare it is. Renamed as “Sombre Dimanche”, it was an operatic tribute to the original version with a couple of tenors on background vocals. While not as good as the ones that followed it, this song was probably the first cover of the tune to remain faithful to the 19 Century gothic vibes of the original.

Very little is known about Irish singer Cathey Davey;cathy-davey-blog I, for one, had never even heard of her existence until last night when her live version of “Gloomy Sunday” put me to sleep with it’s gorgeous melody. The song starts off with twinkling sounds reminiscent of tiny baby toes gently stepping on a xylophone. She sings the lyrics with a sort of a depraved innocence that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Oliver Twist. I am definitely sure that we all need to nurture a healthy obsession with Cathey Davey.

If that’s too much to ask for, I at least hope that you obsess about music…period. While doing so, dig deeper into the roots of what you love…I’m telling you, you’d be surprised.

Download

Marie-Louise Damien – Sombre Dimanche (Gloomy Sunday)

Bjork – Gloomy Sunday

Cathey Davis – Gloomy Sunday

Buy

Cathy Davey’s Something Ilk

Bjork’s Vespertine

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Tfond-decran-jcvd800he very first time that I went for a film at the theatre all by myself was for Jim Carrey’s Mask. Only it wasn’t. I think I was 12 years old. The imbecile who booked my tickets somehow confused Jean Claude Van Damme’s Time Cop with one of the most-talked about films in Chennai. So I sat for nearly two hours at the theatre, surruptiously peeking over my shoulder to see if someone was looking to steal my popcorn or worse yet, discover that I had no clue what the hell was going on. In what could only a stroke of dour cinematic irony, thanks to the absurd plot of Time Cop that pretty much defied all the laws of the universe that preserved either logic or gravity; it was also the first time that I ever heard of the Civil War (watch the opening scene) period. As for the film, well…from what I could fathom as a nervous teenager, Van Damme played a depressed policeman-type guy who could travel through time.

vandammeStreetfighter was memorable; if not for its throwback to the good-old fashioned uber-unreal action flicks of the Eighties then at least for the arcade-like duels that stayed true to the videogame’s original gameplay. Look closely and you might even find several nods to the original Godzilla and Giant Robot series. The storyline was sort of messed up with heroes and villains switching sides faster that you can say, “Florida voters suck donkey balls”, but it was completely forgivable considering the awesomeness (!) of characters like Honda, Dhalsim, Vega, Sagat and Balrog. My only regret was that Colonel Guille didn’t have that ultra-hip spiked hair in the film; instead we got Van Damme sporting a French army cap. Small woes though; after all Streetfighter did help me sink the memory of the horror that was Time Cop.

Then there was that weekend when I stumbled upon Kickboxer on Star Movies. Continuing the tradition of films that are so friggin bad that the audience can’t take their eyes off the screen, Kickboxer punched, scratched, clawed and er kicked its way into becoming a really funny and seriously unintentional self-parody. Imagine the late MGR acting in an amateurish John Woo film and you are still nowhere close to how incredible “bad” and “entertaining” this film was.

During the years of cinematic decadence and uncouth experimentation, I kept watching Van Damme films such Double Impact, Hard Target and the tremendously lame Knock Off. It was the sort of amusement I had for Prabhu Deva. No matter how horrid their films are, I still force myself to watch them wallow in the agony of pretending to be actors. Until Death broke the mould. Released in 2007 and directed by Simon Fellows, it is probably the only film of Van Damme that had a passable storyline with a bit of acting throw in, as well. For what it’s worth, it was fun watching him play a dirty cop hooked on heroin and cheap whiskey. And I swear, the first 30 minutes of film was really well shot.

Fast forward to today morning when I was checking Roger Ebert’s latest film reviews. I came across an odd action film called JCVD directed by short film enthusiast Mabrouk El Mechri. It stars Van Damme as an action movie star JCVD – a character who is an exaggeration of the actor himself. It even seems vaguely reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero with Van Damme’s existential angst replacing the stone-faced desperation of the Governor and with JCVD’s intense catharsis subbing for LAH’s B-movie shenanigans.

730244861Roger Ebert’s two cents are as endearing as ever. He says…“The new film from the Muscles from Brussels is the surprisingly transgressive ‘JCVD,’ which trashes his career, his personal life, his martial arts skills, his financial stability and his image. He plays himself, trapped in a misunderstood hostage crisis, during which we get such a merciless dissection of his mystique that it will be hard to believe him as a Universal Soldier ever again. On the other hand, it will be easier to like him. This movie almost endearingly savages him… Damme says worse things about himself than critics would dream of saying, and the effect is shockingly truthful. I sorta enjoyed myself.”

Well, I am certainly intrigued by all this talk about a really bad actor who does a really good job of impersonating how bad he really is. And I don’t think anyone expected Van Damme to star in such a film; maybe Bruce Willis or Mickey Rourke, but certainly not a dude who was fond of being called the Muscles from Brussels.

Robert Bresson once said, “films can only be made by by-passing the will of those who appear in them, using not what they do, but what they are.” Too bad the French filmmaker didn’t live long enough to see someone like Van Damme add credibility to his theory on acting.

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Obscurity in art has died. There’s always this dude sitting in front of his computer under a glacier in Quebec who has some messed-up death metal / hip-hop version of that Lynyrd Skynyrd B-side track. I used to pride myself in flipping through the back catalogues of Landmark’s music section, hoping to find an Entombed album or that John Frusciante solo album. Hell, I even thought that merely purchasing Marilyn Manson’s Last Day On Earth entitled me to some sort of a cool status.

b0006u4uau01_sclzzzzzzz_Obscurity has died with the dawn of bittorrents and peer-to-peer technology. No longer are underground musicians shrouded in mystery with their albums falling prey to cobwebs and dirty fingers of ignorant cassette storeowners. They are available for your listening pleasure on mp3 blogs, torrent softwares, YouTube and such. And now inaccessibility to rare music exists in theory and it is more attributed to the laziness of people unwilling to scourge through music review websites and find reasons to persist with YouTube until they get what they are looking for. I have been obsessing about discovering new music ever since I read Mark Pytlik review of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver on Pitchforkmedia and then promptly downloaded the blisteringly hip “North American Scum” on through the Hypem blog search engine.

soul_coughing-band-1994Much like LCD Soundsystem, Soul Coughing is another one of those brilliant rock bands that MTV never bothered to promote during its heyday. Led by folk savant Mike Doughty, Soul Coughing whipped up a frenzy of sound that borrowed as much from improvisational jazz as it did from razor-sharp alternative rock music. With Mark De Gli Antoni on samplers, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, and Yuval Gabay on percussion and drums, they even experimented with hip-hop and folk psychedelia. I first heard of these guys on the Spawn’s soundtrack album but it just didn’t cut the mustard for me. The song “A Plane Scraped Its Belly on a Sooty Yellow Moon” (in collaboration with Drum n Bass artist Roni Size) paled in comparison to the awesome tracks by Slayer, Atari Teenage Riot, Crystal Method, Filter and gasp, Silverchair. Soul Coughing’s debut studio album – Ruby Vroom – was an entire beast altogether. It was a maniacal collection of infectious grooves sprinkled with acoustic harmonies and sample-based loops of erstwhile legends such as Toots and the Maytals, Howlin’ Wolf and even the father of freestyle jazz – Thelonious Monk.

Screenwriter’s Blues” is probably the finest of the lot, with it’s spoken word stream of consciousness against a groovy horn section. As Doughty recites what seems to be an ode to the decay, decadence and dystopia of Los Angeles.

rubyvroomI am going to Los Angeles to build a screenplay about lovers who murder each other / I am going to Los Angeles to see my own name on a screen / Five feet long and luminous / The radioman says it is 5 am and the sun has charred the other side of the world and come back to us / And painted the smoke over our heads an imperial violet

Despite bearing close resemblance to one of Jack Kerouac’s LSD flashbacks through lurid suburban streets, the spectacular wall of funk sets the song apart from a horde of beatnik-inspired music. I have also included a remix of one of the songs of their last studio album – El Oso. “Circles” is a truckload of fun; the Propellerheads remix is even better. “I don’t need to walk around in circles, walk around in circles,” mumbles the singer as the post-Big Beat electronic duo weaves together a sea of sweet-sounding turntable jams all around it. It’s the kind of summer funk that Sugar Ray has been desperately trying to conjure up without sounding like absolute morons.

Wikipedia starts off its description of Soul Coughing as a band that “found only modest mainstream success, but had a devoted following and largely positive responses from critics…” I guess that is pretty much a fair description of most of the Indie bands out there experimenting their brains out, hoping that enough people will take notice. Too bad, not many out there pay attention to what the lack of fuss all about. Twisted irony, considering that finest works of art often end up escaping the mainstream radar of roving eyes and heavy wallets.

So today, I sit here, a victim of wanderlust and indulging in frivolity such as searching for the keywords “rare music” on YouTube and seeing what turns up. I almost feel as though I have formed a Faustian pact with bands such as Soul Coughing.

I feel a bit uneasy quoting Elton John but hmmm maybe “that’s why they all it the blues.”

Download

Soul Coughing – Screenwriter’s Blues

Soul Coughing – Circles (Propellerheads remix)

Buy

Soul Coughing’s Ruby Vroom

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