August 31, 2004

The Cowboy Junkies

Back in 1989 I was living in a ---- I'll be kind and call it an apartment house. Flophouse would be a more accurate term but it wasn't that bad. We only had one crackhead in residence, and no winos who didn't at least have a job.

Anyway, there was a mid-twenties guy living there named Dan. He was a suicidal depressive, the kind of east coast middle-class rich kid turned down-and-outer that you might expect to find in such a place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was okay; we got along. But, part of his depressiveness symptomized in his affection for the first album released by The Cowboy Junkies: The Trinity Sessions. He played that day and night (we still had to use vinyl in those days). Dan must've listened to Trinity 10 times a day for weeks on end.

I'll always remember how he was obsessed with the Hank Williams cover, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Having heard this record through the wall so many times, my favorite was the cover of Lou Reed's Sweet Jane. But that whole record was sooooo sloooowwwww and letharrrrrrrrrgicccc. Perfect for a depressed person. I wasn't exactly Mr. Happy Go Lucky in those days myself.

Since that time I haven't followed The Cowboy Junkies too closely. I never bought any of their disks. But I've always kind of wanted to see them. Just to see if they could perform as lethargically as they recorded.

This was an appropriate first live music event for our new home of Lawrence, KS. We saw the Junkies Sunday night at The Granada Theater on Massachussetts St. downtown. There were probably 400 people there. Trust me, that is the CJ's in those photos. My new phone cam doesn't work well in the dark and I didn't have the nerve to take the good digicam since it was our first gig at the venue. Next time I will not be so shy.

Great show. Yes they are lethargic. But they are beautiful too. I love Margo Timmins' vocals. She has one of the sweetest voices I've ever heard. But the accordion player made his axe sound like a moog synthesizer sometimes, only much more genuine and so soulful. Strangely I can't find his name anywhere.

They did two Neil Young covers, Helpless and one of the encores was Powderfinger. I really liked hearing them do Lay Me Down which is the Grateful Dead song they recorded for the tribute album Deadicated. The only CJ recording I've ever owned. I'm sure they're sick of doing Sweet Jane and the Hank Williams song, so I understand why they didn't do those. But I would've liked hearing them. And we certainly enjoyed all their original material that I was not familiar with.

Margo said, among other things, how much she appreciated that the audience was willing to be quiet. From reading the tour blog on their website, it sounds like that's a common problem. They refer to "geese," apparently people who would rather speak raucously than listen to the band. I think it's strange that someone would pay the price for a ticket ($20 here, plus service charges) and not want to listen. Even after she appeals for quiet. I look forward to seeing what they say about the Lawrence gig.

Lawrence has adopted the non-smoking ordinance that all the liberal communities seem to be picking up. As a libertarian I do not believe in those laws. However, I must confess that I appreciated not smelling like an overfull ashtray when I got home, and being able to wear the t-shirt I had on again this evening.

We'll be going back to the Granada. Antibalas is performing there September 21.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Dan. After he left the apartment house we heard that he got picked up in San Francisco trying to panhandle donations for some free clinic, only he wasn't giving the clinic the money. The word "loser" comes to mind. But, for all I know he's a bank president now.

Posted by Wayne at 01:21 AM | Comments (6)

August 29, 2004

Blood of the Prodigal

I haven't read a novel in quite some time -- maybe years. And I haven't written about a book of any kind for this blog before. However this one related so strongly to my personal life that I feel inspired.

Like a colleague wrote recently, a book can take you places that movies and DVD's and TV shows cannot go.

Blood of the Prodigal involves the Ohio Amish community. No, my family is not anywhere near Amish. But we are strongly Christian. I haven't been to a regular church regularly for many years, but I have my relationship with the spiritual side of the Universe, or God if you prefer. And God has nothing to do with politics or gay marriage. But I digress.

This Paul Gaus novel is a murder mystery, made very interesting and informative by his discriptions of Amish life and the peculiar Amish customs. You get some surface info, but you don't get into the middle of the Amish community or mindset. You are kept at a distance the way the Amish people keep the "English" at two or three arms' lengths.

Jonah Miller is the murder victim, and he is a man who was born Amish but left the fold in his youth. He apparently is killed when he is attempting to come back. This after his son, who is still with the Amish, had been kidnapped. The story is intricate and very intriguing with all its unexpected twists and turns. I'd recommend it if you enjoy the genre.

You can relate the title to the character I mentioned. And I can relate to him. I am a prodigal son. And I have just recently come back to my home state of Kansas after 20+ years. So far at least I've had much better luck than Jonah had.

During the story we never hear from Jonah, and I would've liked to have heard his character speak. We get a pretty good idea of where his head was having spent ten years away from the strictly plain life of the Amish, and then his motivations for wanting to return. I felt for him and feel extremely grateful that my situation is not nearly so extreme.

With the Amish, either you are, or you aren't. There is no halfway, no tolerance if you are unwilling to wear the straw hat and suspenders and grow a beard -- shaved above and below the lips. Nope, they won't even acknowledge that you exist unless you're willing to go all the way into Amishness.

I'm grateful that my family, though I was different and liked to do things they didn't approve of, was willing to except me more on my terms and not completely on theirs.

I have to admit that the Amish lifestyle is vaguely attractive to me. A simple life without credit cards and mortgage payments and traffic; and even without all the pleasures like espresso and movies sounds kind of nice. I would get bored though. I have an active mind that needs more than a simple farmer's life, and more to read than the Bible.

Sometimes I hate trying to sum these things up. I find when I have a problem finishing it's usually because I didn't start very well. I didn't have a clearly defined thesis. This time I tried to write about myself by writing about a book and it didn't really work. I did get some thoughts out but I didn't get all the personal insights I expected.

As free human beings we can use our unique intelligence to try to understand ourselves and our world. But if we are prevented from using our creative potential, we are deprived of one of the basic characteristics of a human being.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Posted by Wayne at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2004

Tribute, a rockumentary

Tribute bands are a freaky rock and roll subculture. If you can't make your own music, you can always play somebody else's and you'll still get people to listen.

Kiss is a natural for a tribute band for many reasons. For one, the songs are really simple and easy to learn. And, the players get to put on makeup; this has to make it a lot easier to act the part of another musician.

"Larger Than Life," the Kiss tribute band discussed in this documentary, is pretty interesting because of what evolves with the band. (Writing about docs is nice because you don't have to worry so much about spoilers.) The guy who plays Gene Simmons, the super-tongued Kiss bass player, actually goes off his rocker and starts to think that he really is Gene. He sets his own house on fire, ultimately cuts his hair, finds religion, and renounces Kiss as evil.

Kiss, being one of the wildest rock and roll stories ever, naturally would produce the most interesting tribute band stories.

There are three other tribute acts documented in this film. "Sheer Heart Attack" is a Queen impersonation; "Bloodstone" does a Judas Priest act; and "The Missing Links" is a Monkees tribute.

Each is their own drama and comedy.

Sheer Heart Attack loses their Freddie Mercury to the German production of Cats. One of Bloodstone's musicians does the traditional rock and roll thing and becomes an alcoholic. The Monkees follow r-n-r tradition in that they break up because they hate each other -- and of course then try to get back together.

But one of the scariest aspects of Tribute, is the description of some fans. There is the "Heavy Metal Mailman," but he's no big deal, not much worse than I am, really. The one that is disconcerting is "Superfan," the fellow who follows Sheer Heart Attack. He is obviously just a little too involved with their act. Getting obsessed with a real band is one thing, but living your life for a tribute band takes pathetic to new heights.

You have to like the guy though, and you naturally feel a little sorry for him. We all strive to find meaning in our lives, and some of us get lost on the way.

The film follows part of Larger Than Life's process of finding a new Gene, and this is interesting because of one fellow they audition.

The guy who helps form The Missing Links almost looks like Michael Nesmith. According to the film he ultimately wrote a TV movie about The Monkees.

It's easy to look down your nose at such bands, and the individuals who make them up. But the fact is, since most of us have dreamed of being a rock and roll superstar, you have to respect these musicians because they have gotten closer to it than we ever will. They are having fun, and some of them even make some money.

Seeing a band like Foghat today evokes quite similar observations. Foghat is playing small clubs now, but at least they're still playing, and that has to beat sitting in a nursing home.

ADDENDUM: I have discovered a website devoted to tribute bands: You can find tributes to most any band, with names like Led Zepagain, AC/DShe (featuring Agnes Young), Back Stabbath, and my favorite: Alanis Moreorless.

Posted by Wayne at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

My name is Napoleon Dynamite. I am neither napoleonic nor am I explosive. I am not short, I am tall and I am bland, I am not fiery. In fact, my facial expression never changes. I am skinny, and as it turns out I am a pretty damn good dancer. I play tetherball with myself.

My grandma looks like a dyke. My Uncle Rico could possibly be weirder than I am. He wants to go back to 1982 so that he can win the state championship. He makes videos of himself throwing footballs. The videos are completely retarded to watch.

I don't curse as much as you might expect.

We have a pet llama named Tina that I have to feed. My brother Kip looks like a miniature John Waters. He has an online girlfriend, who after she showed up, Wayne and his wife thought might be a man. She's about 6 inches taller than Kip.

My and my best friend Pedro are in FFA. We go to high school in a small town in rural Idaho. We went to the prom and Pedro took the girl that I should've taken.

My name is Napoleon Dynamite. I am in a movie that's pretty funny. I don't know why it's funny because nothing really happens. Just watching me interact with the other characters is funny to watch. Especially when I have a grapefruit.

The movie must be funny because Wayne said to check it out. Be sure and sit through the end credits and get the extra scene. The opening credits are enough to qualify this as one of the quirkiest films in history.

This was Wayne and Lucy's first trip to the Liberty Hall theater in Lawrence. What a cool old place. [find the "enter site" link for the flash website] They show films but they also have bands once in a while. Robert Earl Keen will be there this coming Sunday but Wayne and Lucy will be coming back from his niece's wedding in Wisconsin.

Posted by Wayne at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2004

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Clowns arrive on Earth in a giant big top tent and proceed to kill everybody in a small town by shooting them with popcorn and encasing them in cotton candy. This movie is hilarious. I love it. A grade b CLASSIC if ever there was one. This is supposed to be horror I guess since the clowns are killing everybody but really it's a comedy. There are several funny lines. The acting is certainly grade b. The Chiodo brothers, whoever they are, talked somebody out of some financing to do a drive-in movie and they created a true work of campy art.

The clowns are a really special piece of costuming work. They aren't costumes, they are sculptures. Even though clowns are supposed to be funny entertainment, many people have been frightened by them during their early years and this childhood impression has carried over into adulthood. I think the Chiodos might be in this group. These clowns are really scary monsters with big teeth and menacing expressions. The cotton candy pods are reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Maybe this movie would be good therapy for those with clown-o-phobia.

The set designers had a great time too, with the final scene in the funhouse. The writers really took the circus clown metaphor as far as they could take it with the cotton candy, the funhouse, the clown pantomime that the monsters use, the popcorn guns, and especially the one weak spot that the monster-clowns have, which the handsome young local policeman discovers.

The film could have used the T&A that generally comes with B slasher movies. There is a cute chick but the shower scene is very lacking in titillation.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is brilliant in many ways. Mainly it's brilliant because you know the producers, actors and everybody involved had a blast making it, and got paid for having fun. Ya gotta love that. Ya gotta love the tagine too: "In Space No One Can Eat Ice Cream!"

Wayne says, "Check it out!" (It's showing a few more times on Flix this month.)

Holy Shit! A little net research on the movie indicates that there might be a sequel coming! Killer Klowns from Outer Space II.

Posted by Wayne at 12:47 PM | Comments (2)

August 05, 2004

The Dancer Upstairs

Communist revolution is at the core of this John Malkovich-directed story of an unnamed nation in South America. This was John's first attempt at directing and his rich film experience comes through. It's a very good story if a little far-fetched in what develops. Actually it's a lot far-fetched, but the film is still very compelling. My only real problem with it was the same complaint I have with many British films. I couldn't understand much of the dialog because of the thick accents of the actors, only this time the accents were Spanish instead of limey.

The film is quite suspenseful as Augustin Rejas; police detective, former lawyer, and son of a coffee farmer, is charged with finding Ezequiel, leader of an underground revolution-in-progress. Ezequiel fancies himself as "the fourth flame of communism" after Lenin, Mao, and Stalin. Ezequiel enlists the use of young children for suicide bombings and assassinations, and appears to have a mystical grip on the underclass who support him, the way "great" revolutionaries do.

What makes the movie far-fetched is Augustin's highly improbable chance connections to those who might lead him directly to Ezequiel, mainly his daughter's ballet teacher, The Dancer Upstairs. Naturally Auggie gets a major crush on this woman. His wife is cute but a bit self-obsessed. You can't blame him for looking around after seeing the wife in action. She couldn't care less about the assassinations and bombings -- she wants to get a nose job.

Javier Bardem is excellent as Augustin because of his evenness, not overplaying the part. He is a calm center in a story of chaos -- simply a cop solving a case. You get enough of his background to wonder why he doesn't support the revolution. The government seized his father's coffee farm when he was young. He was forced into public service by conscience. I didn't quite get his reason for going from lawyer to police officer. That speech thing again. If I come across this film on DVD, I will rent it and turn on the English subtitles.

Posted by Wayne at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)

August 04, 2004

Last Dance

Sharon Stone as death row inmate. I wondered how Sharon was going to work taking her clothes off into this scenario. Plus I noticed that our old buddy Dr. Fleischman from Northern Exposure, Rob Morrow, was in it. So I decided I could at least try the first fifteen minutes and see if it held my interest.

Stone, to her credit, is remarkably unsexy in this movie. She seems to really want to show that she can really act. And hey, she can. Her performance is the best part of this little drama, and I'm not talking about her legs. You never see them. Nor her boobs or butt.

Rob just plays the same dorky guy he always plays. He reminded me of his role in Quiz Show though not nearly as good. He is Rick, a rich kid attorney who has never done anything and who's brother gets him a job in the clemency department of the state government. He's supposed to review Cindy Ligget's (Stone) case for possible clemency. In getting to know her something compassionate awakens in him and he gets obsessed with preventing her execution.

Overall this story is pretty weak. We don't get enough of Cindy's background to evoke any real sympathy for her. She brutally butchered two people during a robbery attempt while high on crack. Poor thing. We mainly find out that the family of one of her victims are rich assholes. They lobbied for and got the death penalty for Cindy, in part by bending the truth.

The subtle intimacy that develops between Rick and Cindy is to be expected I guess. At least it's not overt, with them openly declaring their love. But the lamest moment in the film is when they are in Cindy's holding cell waiting for her to go get the needle, and she says, "I guess our timing was a little off, huh?"

This film attempted to show the criminal as victim, and failed in my opinion. Death penalty advocates don't have to worry about legislators seeing Last Dance. But Sharon made the most of a bad situation in her role.

Posted by Wayne at 09:53 AM | Comments (3)