Thursday, December 25, 2008
Merry Christmas! I'm on my way to a 5-day wedding/birthday extravaganza on the East Coast today, so I will be back with more 90's culture in about a week! In the meantime, check out 90's rock babe Aimee Mann's (she found fame in the 80's band Til Tuesday, but had significant success providing music for Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 film "Magnolia") "Christmas Carol" videos:
Monday, December 22, 2008
PEARL JAM - TEN (1991)
Woo buddy I loved this record in the 90's. First things first: Pearl Jam's seminal 90's album "Ten" is being reissued in March 2009 in four different packages, each containing a digitally remastered version of the original album (with additional artwork by Ten's original graphic designer, PJ bassist Jeff Ament) with a special treat, such as the two versions including the DVD of PJ's 1992 "MTV Unplugged" set, which I highly recommend picking up. More info about this release and the impending avalanche of Pearl Jam reissues here at Paste Magazine.
Now, on to my utter surprise that you don't own this effin' record. As Mike Myers's Wayne Campbell points out in the eternally-funny 1992 film, "Wayne's World," Peter Frampton's "Frampton Comes Alive!" was sent to suburban kids in the mail with sample boxes of Tide. Pearl Jam's "Ten" was similarly issued to 90's suburban brats.
Where to start with this controversial record? Controversial in that it spawned more than its fair share of terrible imitators: singers refusing to acknowledge the vulnerability in Eddie Vedder's impressively emotive baritone, instead merely Xeroxing its power, ending up laughable caricatures of masculine ego-tripping (see: Creed) and the bands themselves mangling Pearl Jam's nascent melding of punkish energy and 70's style arena rock.
"Obsessed" is not strong enough of a word to describe my passion for this record. Though the fervor has faded, I still stroll back and take in the occasional listen to this still quite effective album. Though some songs sound somewhat dated, the raw power the songs exhibit is what keeps the real rock fan coming back to this classic.
SIDE ONE: "Once" kicks off the album strongly with dark lyrics involving guns and loss of control, making sure you understand where the record is going; on to the exceptional powerhouses "Even Flow, and "Alive," the latter of which is an epic Oedipal saga that has become part of PJ lore; "Why Go," another barn-burner of a song with a funky rumbling bassline that makes rock chicks like me shake it...to the blessed "Black," the song that I credit for my introduction to rock music. I have no idea what Eddie is going on about in "Black" to this day, but it is beautiful.
Then of course, "Jeremy," who spoke in class today, as you well know. I watched that video so many times that I'm sure I could direct a shot-by-shot remake of the the thing from memory. I always enjoyed the last half-minute after Jeremy blew himself away in front of his classmates and they're frozen in place, shielding themselves from his bright red blood. You can check this Mark Pellington-directed version of "Jeremy" here. Also, if you love this video, you may want to rent a copy of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's 1962 film "Ivan's Childhood." There are quite a few visuals in this film that are incredibly similar to Pellington's version of "Jeremy." Flip the tape.
SIDE TWO: I always felt that the B side of this tape (Yes, I AM that old) was the more sensual, underrated side of Ten. Okay, so I definitely excerpted "Oceans" for the quote in my high school yearbook, but don't let that deter you from enjoying a truly lovely song about a boy and his surfboard. I love its Led Zeppelin-tinged sound, so dreamy.
"Porch" was actually my favorite track off Ten for a little while. PJ performed a terrific version of this song on their "MTV Unplugged..." some of you may remember when Eddie Vedder jumped on top of his stool as the band wailed on this tune, and teetered up in the air while scrawling "PRO-CHOICE" on his arm with a black marker. This is actually quite remarkable when you consider our current post-Janet Jackson "Nipplegate" pop culture where hardly anything truly spontaneous happens on TV anymore; "Garden" and "Deep" are both emotionally immersing experiences, full of angst while stroking our need for catharsis...both have powerful choruses that just plain feel good to belt out.
"Release" is the quiet storm of the record, a slow cookin' jam that I find sexy, moving and emblematic of the attractive vulnerability of the Eddie Vedder persona at the time. I think what the Scott Stapps of the world missed about Eddie Vedder's charisma was that he didn't think of himself as a god (there's even a PJ bootleg called "No F$#kin' Messiah!"), but as an angry, mixed-up kid. Like all the rest of us.
Pearl Jam's "Ten" also had the bonus tracks "Wash" and "Dirty Frank" that could only be found on the UK/German imports. "Wash" is my shizz. It is one of my top five fave PJ songs by far. It is down and dirty sex. Download yourself a copy. "Dirty Frank" is a fun riff on Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk, if somewhat un-PC; hence, fun. On Japanese import only was their cover of The Beatles' "I've Got A Feeling," which I love so much that it will appear in its own "Baby I Love Your Way" column here on Damn The Man.
Enough dancing about architecture...Pearl Jam videos!! Enjoy:
Pearl Jam - Porch (MTV Unplugged)
Pearl Jam - Jeremy (Alternate Version of Video)
Pearl Jam - Black (MTV Unplugged)
Pearl Jam - Wash (1991 - Live at Tower Records, Yonkers, NY [My Hometown!!Y.O. Represent!])
Someone in the comments to the video of Pearl Jam at the Tower in my town totally feels me: "Goddamn I used to love that store." Tower Records in Yonkers was a mecca to disaffected youth of all stripes for the entirety of the 90's. It no longer exists (although with other Yonkers freak hangouts like Rockin' Rex...), but is sorely missed. This PJ video blows my mind. You couldn't have told me they played in Yonkers. I can't believe I missed this show.
FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1991) - DIR. CHARLES SHYER
Like Duke Ellington, I'm in a sentimental mood since I'm officially a Missus as of today...Fiance and I did the deed in fine assembly line fashion at the Old Orange County Courthouse, along with at least twenty other couples. Some would find the "marriage factory" atmosphere of the courthouse somewhat off-putting, but me being a Capricorn, I loved the communality of the experience and the clinical filling out of forms. You sign, I sign, done.
Well, we're actually having a ceremony with more pomp and circumstance back East in a week, and thinking about the year-plus long planning process (and subsequent nervous breakdowns) involuntarily makes me think of one of my undercover favorite films of the 90's, "Father of the Bride."
I say "undercover" because some may remember this Steve Martin-starring remake of the 1950 film of the same name (which starred Spencer Tracy and my personal fave, Elizabeth Taylor) as goopy and saccharine in its unrelenting corniness. If you don't have a heart, this may indeed be true. But for the rest of us, one of Steve Martin's last genuinely touching film performances (in the grouchy yet caring Dad role he played in the more acerbic 1989 film "Parenthood"), Kimberly Williams's (a Westchester girl--from Rye, NY!) lovely innocence as his daughter, Diane Keaton (who just has to show up to be great), and Martin Short's hilarious gay wedding planner Franck, make this film a genuine pleasure to sit back and escape into. I don't think there's a day that's passed since I started planning my own wedding that I didn't have Martin Short's voice in my head intoning, "Armani don't make a blue tux-ado!"
This movie touched me because as a young girl who was just attempting to form her conception of her own personal future, this film was a veritable fever dream of wishful thinking when it came to the perfect wedding. My actual wedding reality is somewhat far off from Father of the Bride's construct of the contemporary wedding, but all the attendant shock,confusion, nostalgia and finally, euphoria is universal.
I have other stuff to tell you, and since I'm the little woman now, I have to cook dinner, so I'll just leave you with a clip of this fine 90's movie to tide you over 'til the next wedding that you have to attend:
Friday, December 5, 2008
As a burgeoning punk rock girl, I secretly loved Candlebox in the 90's. They were on the 2nd tier of popular "grunge" inflected rock bands, kind of alongside bands like Silverchair and Blind Melon. Famous, but not as well respected as Nirvana or Pearl Jam. There was a reason for this too: Even more heavily derivative than the top tier of 90's bands, these bands often lacked their own original voice, seeming cookie-cutter-ish and juvenile. But when "Far Behind" played, I swooned like a geisha in an opium den. What a crackin' tune. In fact, their self-titled 1993 record contained quite a few listenable songs, including "Far Behind," "You," "Change," and "Cover Me." There was something unfashionably hair band-flavored about Candlebox, and I liked it. If you know what I'm talking about, check them out in NYC on the 12th if you're on the East Coast.
Here are a couple of videos for songs off of their debut album, Candlebox (1993). You're going to enjoy this, believe me:
Candlebox - Far Behind (1993)
Candlebox - You (1993)
Thursday, December 4, 2008
I just want to take the time to thank all of you who stop by my page and hang out in the 90's...I really appreciate it. Please remember that I welcome comments, especially constructive and/or positive ones! To the Anonymous fellow who felt that my review of the recent Smashing Pumpkins show was whiny, you should come to my house sometime with some cheese! You ain't heard nothing yet!! If you were there, I'd love to hear what you thought of it. The great thing about this blog is that it is MINE, and you will hear my honest opinion on things. If you like it, welcome. If you don't, WHATEVER, as Cher from Clueless would say. There's lots more to come in 90's culture on Damn The Man, Save The Empire, so stay tuned!
See You At The Show: Smashing Pumpkins at the Gibson Ampitheatre, Universal City, CA - December 3, 2008
SMASHING PUMPKINS - GIBSON AMPITHEATRE, UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 3,2008
First off, let me just say that the above photo is no longer accurate, as D'arcy and James Iha are no longer in the band. So there's that. Then, as far as the show went...how do I say this nicely? OK, you've seen "This Is Spinal Tap," I take it? Yes. Especially the "Jazz Odyssey" part? Exactly.
This show was an audacious shambles. It was especially dispiriting considering Billy Corgan's still-apparent talent. A.) He's a lovely singer, who brought the audience to tears with his rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" early on in the set. B.) He's a tirelessly excellent guitarist, who can and will bust out any style you want on that thing. C.) Those SONGS! The man's got songwriting chops that he flat-out refused to show us after a sprinkling of hits at the beginning. He pulled a bait-and-switch, and we're not happy about it.
Here's what he did play: He started off quite nice and strange with "Ava Adore," dressed to the Halloween hilt in a long black cossack-style robe and a pumpkin basket full of glitter to shower on the front row. He had some little kids with baskets to help him onstage as well. The whole show had a very bizarre flavor due to Corgan's eccentricities and "piss off" attitude. This is not as cool as it sounds. He also managed to eke out "1979," "Disarm," "Cherub Rock," "Landslide," and a spectacular "Zero," which is clearly one of his best songs.
That sounds great, right? Well, subtract that half-hour from almost three hours of playing and a disgruntled 90's baby you will find. Billy Corgan and his massive band (he had at least 7-8 people onstage at any given time, and it seemed to swell to almost 12 during some of the more symphonic arrangements) cycled through every prog rock band you can think of, plus a couple of other styles for good measure, with nary a Smashing Pumpkins tune in sight. It was like being at a Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Yes, ELO, Fela Kuti (yes, there was some Afrobeat in there), Bad Company, Paul Simon, and King Crimson show all at the same time. Plus, add some musical theater in there with some kind of weird arrangement of "Little Red Riding Hood" (complete with embarrassing wolf howls) and I'm reaching for my revolver.
Now, if this sounded cool, like TV On The Radio's 2006 "Return To Cookie Mountain" album, then this might be excusable. But this was nothing but out and out wankery. And it was boring. People were literally bailing out during the set, or, if they stuck around, they were yawning and falling asleep. Not cool.
Here are some videos for some Smashing Pumpkins songs that I would have liked to hear. Enjoy them instead of wasting good money in this recession on this hot tranny mess of a live show:
Smashing Pumpkins - Today (from their 1993 album, Siamese Dream)
Smashing Pumpkins - Siva (from their 1991 album, Gish)
Smashing Pumpkins - Drown (Live at Chicago Metro, 1992 - from the 1992 Singles soundtrack)
Smashing Pumpkins - Glynis (live; from the 1993 compilation record, No Alternative)
Smashing Pumpkins - Blue (from their 1994 B-sides compilation, Pisces Iscariot)
Smashing Pumpkins - Stand Inside Your Love (from their 2000 album, Machina/The Machines of God)
I hate to go off like this, but I felt he really did a disservice to his fans last night. Billy Corgan went off on how, the last he checked, he wasn't anybody's bitch, and even berated a guy for asking the band to play "1979" again. Some gullible, corny older rock guy standing behind me and my fiance was like, "Well, you can't tell an artist what to do." No, you certainly can't, but it is also the responsibility of the artist to stay in tune with his audience and show them respect, since they slapped their hard-earned money down for a ticket and all. I just found the show and Billy Corgan rather inauthentic, barring fleeting moments of genius. That is all.
SPANKING THE MONKEY (1994) - dir. David O. Russell
This 1994 film still makes people uncomfortable. It was nearly impossible to find a picture of the poster, let alone stills from the movie, so this article will go without glossy screencaps for you to ogle.
I saved the best for last, 90's babies: Jeremy Davies is one of my favorite actors from the 90's. I cannot tell you how overjoyed I was when he was recently added to the cast of "Lost," one of my current television obsessions. He is as terrific there as he is in nearly every role he takes on, even in ones he's bad in, like Charlie Manson, a role in which he was still terrific. Let me explain.
Jeremy often brings the creepy. He's actually quite a handsome, if skinny, boy, hence the acting. But he can be creepy. Sometimes, he's so creeptastic in a role, it can go way overboard into cheesy silliness (Manson). But when he's good, he's really good, especially as a henpecked medical student in Spanking The Monkey.
This film is famous for being the "incest movie." And it is. But it's also a very well-written and directed film with incredible nuance and sensitivity, which is amazing considering that director David O. Russell is not known for either of those in his real life (ask Lily Tomlin). The plot is simple: A young medical student is forced to turn down a summer internship in order to take care of his bedridden mother (who has broken her leg) while his salesman father goes away on business. Fair enough. But stuff goes down between mother and son, and well, you know, incest.
Jeremy Davies is remarkable in this role simply for underplaying his character's obvious angst, alienation and confusion. He's creepy but he's accessible to the viewer as well. He hadn't yet perfected the twitchy, spastic performances he would later become known for, so we're free to enjoy this character's torment just through his dark eyes and pained grimace.
Please enjoy the first 9 minutes or so of the film. If you are David O. Russell or Fine Line, please don't sue me. I love you!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
THAT THING YOU DO! (1996) - dir. Tom Hanks
Tom Hank's 1996 directorial debut "That Thing You Do!" is like manna from heaven to a rock music geek like me. It's a thoroughly-scrubbed but still fascinating and highly entertaining look at 60's rock music culture in the wake of Beatlemania and the explosion of girl groups, and the continued success of pop singers like Gene Pitney and Lesley Gore. At the center of a fine group of performances (as The Wonders, a Beatles-style band formed in Erie, PA) by actors like Tom Everett Scott (Tom Hanks's not-so-Mini-Me), Jonathan Shaech, Damn The Man's mascot Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler (in a heartbreaking role as Jonathan's girlfriend and the band's #1 Fan), and even bit parts by Charlize Theron and Giovanni Ribisi, stands Steve Zahn's energetic and sweet performance as the guitarist "Lenny," who just wants to play music and wants no part in the band's politics and personal snafus. He's kind of the optimistic, playful heart of the band, and it's a wonderful performance by an actor who is much more talented than his roles would sometimes have you believe.
Steve Zahn's performance in "That Thing You Do" is a sharp contrast to his role as a traumatized POW in "Rescue Dawn;" in fact, these characters are psychic opposites, but provide a nice glimpse into this fine actor's range. His ability to easily elicit joy, sympathy and grief in audiences is astounding. His role in That Thing You Do is a bit smaller than some in the rest of the cast, but he exuberantly and hilariously supports the ensemble, as is evidenced here in the trailer:
Please see this little gem of a film if you haven't already. If you are a Steve Zahn fan who hasn't caught up to this film, Netflix now. Here's a part of the "That Thing You Do" reunion interview featuring Steve Zahn:
LITTLE WOMEN (1994) - dir. Gillian Armstrong
Period films are some of my favorite films, but they can be mucked up pretty easily in the care of an unsure director. Luckily, 1994's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's 19th century novel "Little Women" had Australian director Gillian Armstrong (whose own career saw a 90's height with 1997's great film "Oscar and Lucinda," starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett) guiding its cast and crew, and the result, IMHO, is a holiday classic. It is also late-night bedroom pornography for teenage girls everywhere because of its inclusion of Christian Bale in the cast as Theodore Laurence, friend and neighbor to those incorrigible March sisters.
Christian Bale was already a sensation among ladies of all ages for his preteen and teen standout performances in films such as Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" (1987), "Newsies" (1992), and my personal fave, "Swing Kids" (1993), which put an oh-so-very-wrong veneer on teenage crush daydreaming, what with the Nazi theme and all. But "Little Women" was the clincher for me and many other women, I'm sure. Though Bale is now known for "brooding intensity" and quite an impressive facility with an American accent (see the Christopher Nolan-directed "Batman" franchise), I will always treasure Bale's romantic turn as "Laurie" in Little Women.
The thing about Bale in this film that, in my mind, differs from his acting now, is how vulnerable he was. The scene where Laurie first declares his love for Winona Ryder's Jo March, ending in an awkward kiss, is notable both for the fine trickle of spittle that clings to their lips as they pull away, and the heated passion that Bale brings. There was no doubt how this cat felt about this stupid girl who rejects him in the end for an admittedly sexy, but quite older Gabriel Byrne. Somewhere in her heart, Jo March regretted her choice, I know it. Christian Bale truly upped his value as an actor by including "romantic lead" on his resume. Check it out:
RESCUE DAWN (2007) - Featuring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies
Yesterday I watched American film director Jonathan Demme interview German (or Bavarian, as he explained that he prefers in the interview) film director Werner Herzog on one of the special features of Herzog's strange and wonderful 2007 documentary about Anarctica, "Encounters at the End of the World." They discussed Herzog's terrific 2007 narrative film "Rescue Dawn" in depth, and it occurred to me that I had a Damn The Man moment on my hands.
I quite enjoyed the film "Rescue Dawn," and besides my love for the highly eccentric Werner Herzog, this movie also contains three formidable actors who found their strides in the 90's: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies. For the next few posts, I will talk about a favorite 90's film featuring each one of these actors.
Since "Rescue Dawn" is not a 90's film, I won't go on about it, except to say that if you haven't seen it, do. It is a very moving film based on Herzog's 1997 documentary, "Little Dieter Needs To Fly", which profiled Dieter Dengler, a German-American pilot. Rescue Dawn features a startling dramatic performance by a normally comedic actor, Steve Zahn. It is truly a shame that they didn't throw awards at this guy for his acting in this film. Check out the trailer, folks:
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Smashing Pumpkins are playing the Gibson Ampitheatre at Universal City in Cali TODAY and TOMORROW. Sorry that I was slow on the uptake on that, but the tryptophan from the Thanksgiving turkey is still coursing through my system.
As we 90's fans all know, Smashing Pumpkins were huge. They HAD to be spoken about in the same breath as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I have not seen them play live yet, so I am really curious as to what Billy Corgan's going to bring to these sets. He was famous back then for having an iron hand grip on the band, to the extent of playing all the instruments on the records, and eschewing songwriting input from fellow band members. He thought he was the jam, basically. From hearing from those people who have already seen this 20th anniversary tour, this may not be the case.
Barring what's happening with this band today, they were an innovative and often hard-driving band with some admittedly killer tunes under their belt. The entirety of 1991's "Gish" is an excellent driving record (I figured out many a problem by jumping in my car and blasting this album); 1993's "Siamese Dream" was an instant rock classic with "Cherub Rock," "Disarm," and the perennial "Today"; 1995's concept album-ish "Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness" was somewhat indulgent and bloated, but boasted some barn-burner tracks like "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "Zero," "1979," and my favorite, "Thirty-Three." This kind of track record is not to be underestimated. See them if you can.
Here's some videos for songs off of each of their 90's albums:
Smashing Pumpkins - I Am One from their 1991 album, Gish
Smashing Pumpkins - Quiet (Live in Atlanta 1993) from their 1993 album, Siamese Dream
Smashing Pumpkins - Thirty-Three from their 1995 album, Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness
Smashing Pumpkins - Zero from 1995's Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness
Smashing Pumpkins - Ava Adore from their 1998 album, Adore
And for you fans of hardcore out there:
Evergreen Terrace - Zero (Live in Toronto) from their 2004 album, Writer's Block
The Butthole Surfers have been around since the early 80's, but they never really caught mainstream success until the release of their 1996 record, "Electric Larryland," which contained the weird, surreal, yet immensely hummable tune, "Pepper." I wanted to mention their December 12 show in New York because The Buttholes have been coming up time and again for me lately. The Butthole Surfers are mentioned as quite an obvious influence on The Flaming Lips in their 2005 documentary, "The Fearless freaks"; and, as a result of The Big Dig at my parent's house over the Thanksgiving break, I found a copy of Michael Azerrad's fabulous book called "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991," which features quite an informative section on the Butthole Surfers long history as a band and the influence that they've had on other successful rock bands.
Though "Pepper" was an amusingly Beck-esque radio airplay diversion, I knew who the Buttholes were before through their 1993 record " Independent Worm Saloon," and especially the frenetic single, "Who Was In My Room Last Night?" I loved this song because it was kinda crazy and had near-industrial levels of noise in it, which was required listening for a 90's teenager like myself. Enjoy:
Butthole Surfers - Who Was In My Room Last Night? (1993)
Butthole Surfers - Pepper (1996)
Gibby Haynes is pretty awesome.
*CORRECTION: This post originally stated that the December 12 Butthole Surfers show would be at Irving Plaza. Damn The Man is sorry about the error.