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Weekend Tune: Cover Songs For My Valentine

10 Feb

I Want You…

(Apple does Costello)

***

I Need You…

(The Heartbreakers do the Beatles)

***

Baby, I Love You…

(The Ramones do the Ronettes)

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Weekend Tune: Worthy Canadian Initiative

20 Jan

“Worthy Canadian Initiative” was… famously… the winning entry in the New Republic magazine’s contest for most boring headline in the world.

And… famously… many Canadian initiatives are worthy.

And many worthy ones are boring.

Canadians themselves are often worthy… and boring.

But many famous Canadians are worthy of different reputations.

Take this Canadian creative genius. Oscar Peterson’s recent passing was mourned around the world – musical and otherwise. In a taped statement at his recent memorial concert, Stevie Wonder called him the “world’s greatest pianist”.

Not too boring. But very worthy of the praise. And Canadian, too.

Another Canadian creative genius was Norman McLaren, who passed away two decades ago. His work at the National Film Board of Canada made him one of the most influential and innovative animators of his generation.

McLaren’s most famous film – known to every Canadian school-kid – was his Oscar-winning pixillated classic from 1952, “Neighbours“.

But pixillation was not McLaren’s only innovative technique. He made a number of amazing films without the use of a camera, by painting, scratching and / or drawing images directly onto the film stock.

The most famous of these films was a worthy Canadian initiative: “Begone Dull Care” – a 1949 collaboration with fellow Canadian creative genius Oscar Peterson.

I post the film here with one caveat: It doesn’t look nearly as amazing online (especially if your connection speed is slow) as it does the way nature intended – in a darkened theater on film. If you get the opportunity to see it that way, grab it. It’s the only worthy way to appreciate this abstract expressionist painting come to life:

Weekend Tune: Mick, Keith, Jean-Luc and Lucifer

13 Jan

In the spring of 1968, as Paris exploded in riots, Jean-Luc Godard headed across the English Channel to London, hoping to shoot footage of the biggest rock group in the world.

The Beatles said no, but the Rolling Stones were more than happy to allow the acclaimed French nouvelle vague filmmaker to set up shop in their studio and record them as they recorded their latest song.

By lucky coincidence, Mick Jagger would say years later, that song happened to be one of the best they ever would record: Sympathy for the Devil.

The resulting film – called One plus One, but recut and renamed Sympathy for the Devil by a producer concerned with commercial viability (Godard’s reaction to the recut was to punch the producer in the mouth) – is both fascinating and unwatchable all these years later.

Unwatchable because Godard intercut the Stones’ scenes with a series of overly long and boring vignettes, both obscure and politically didactic, and extraordinarily dated four decades later (although some critics would disagree).

Among the vignettes: Black Panthers read poetry and shoot white women in a junkyard; a young woman meanders through the woods, offering “yes” and “no” answers to a TV journalist asking her pseudo-intellectual questions; a woman spray-paints Marxist graffiti all over London; a fascist owner of a pornographic bookstore recites passages from”Mein Kampf” as customers give him Nazi salutes and are invited to slap two Maoist prisoners sitting in the corner of the store.

But the fly-on-the-wall scenes of the Stones working on Sympathy for the Devil remain fascinating, mostly because they show… well… the Stones working on Sympathy for the Devil, taking it from an acoustic folk song to a slow blues number to a mid-60s-Dylanesque tune to the final version we know today, complete with wild Latin beat and “woo-hoo” background vocals.

And though the song is now a comfy part of the Rock canon, its ripped-from-the-headlines quality is underlined in the film, as the lyric “I shouted out who killed Kennedy” morphs into “…who killed the Kennedys” after Bobby Kennedy is shot while the Stones are still working on the recording.

Some excerpts below:

Weekend Tune: Bah Humbug

23 Dec

The quality of this 30-year-old video leaves something to be desired – looks like someone uploaded the contents of a worn-out VHS tape to YouTube – but the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” remains a classic holiday tune.

Or anti-holiday tune, telling the tale – as it does – of a gang of kids mugging Santa Claus for his cash.

“We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over. Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”

Creepy chorus?

Well… not half as much as “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…”

Weekend Tune: Houses of the Hosers

9 Dec

The Holy Trinity of hoser culture would be… what, exactly?

Probably:

 

Rock ’em Sock ’em hockey…

hockey fight

 

…double-doubles…

Tim Horton’s

 

… and two-fours.

Canadian Beer

 

Are you still with me, hosers? The rest of you may need to look those up.

The High Priest of hoser culture?

Easy…

Mr. Rock ’em Sock ’em himself… Don Cherry

Don Cherry

And all the liturgical music in the Hoser House of Worship would certainly be performed by these guys:

 

Tragically Hip

If you’re a practicing hoser, you are required to worship the Tragically Hip. If you’re a hoser from Kingston, Ontario, you are required – at the very least – to know someone who went to school with someone in the Tragically Hip.

If you’re an American, you are required to have never heard of the Tragically Hip.

I grew up in Montreal, so – unlike my pals who were raised on the hard rock of the Canadian Shield – I will never be able to fully, truly embrace hoser culture. But here’s a token offering… a oldie by the Hip that I’ve always liked:

Approaching the band as a non-believer… from a more distant, anthropological point of view… one is invariably confronted with this important question:

Where did the Tragically Hip’s name come from?

In a recent exchange with me in his blog comments section, this Fifth Columnist claimed the band got its name from a short sketch in 1981’s “Elephant Parts“, former Monkee Mike Nesmith’s pioneering long-form music video. Here’s the sketch:

I maintained the Tragically Hip got their name from “Town Cryer” (short excerpt here), the closing track off Elvis Costello’s brilliant 1982 album, Imperial Bedroom. The song’s lyrics include the line:

Other boys use the splendour of their trembling lip
They’re so teddy bear tender and tragically hip

Yeah, I don’t understand it either, but it does have the phrase “tragically hip”.

So, who is correct, hoseheads? Me? Or Mr. Fifth Column?

According to Wikipedia, he’s right and I’m wrong. The name comes from the Nesmith video. Of course, Wikipedia can be edited, you know…

And until I get around to doing just that…

…take off, eh?

Weekend Tune: Food Around The Corner

18 Nov

 

 

Mickey Mouse? Or Bugs Bunny?

Which side are you on?

One or the other. No wavering.

Okay… true… in 2007, they’re just two sides of the same lunchbox. Or multi-billion dollar industry. Or something.

But back in the 1930s? And the ’40s? And the ’50s?

There was Walt Disney. Anthropomorphic sweetness and light.

And there was Warner Brothers. Misanthropic nastiness and bite.

I’ll stick with the latter, thanks. Bugs Bunny. Daffy Duck. Porky Pig. Elmer Fudd.

My kind of people.

Not to mention the looney geniuses behind the toons:

• Mel Blanc, the man of a thousand voices, including those of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Yosemite Sam, Pepé Le Pew, Sylvester the Cat and Foghorn Leghorn.

• Carl Stalling, who composed most of the turn-on-a-dime musical backgrounds to Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series.

And of course, the animators who each brought a distinctive touch to the proceedings. Among them:

• Fritz Freleng, the creator of many of the Warner Brothers’ characters still found on lunchboxes decades later.

• Tex Avery, the much-imitated pioneer of surreal slapstick animation

• Chuck Jones, a master of literate wordplay and brilliant comic timing

• and Bob Clampett, whose hilarious cartoons – more than the others – pushed the boundaries of both propriety and the laws of physics.

An Itch in Time” is a Clampett classic from 1943, starring Elmer Fudd, his dog and “A. Flea”. It includes two instances of Clampett testing the limits of the Hays Code, which governed the censorship of films at the time.

The final image – a feline suicide – was cut out of all televised versions of the cartoon, although it is readily available now in the era of DVDs and YouTube.

An earlier scene – featuring the flea-tortured dog dragging his hindquarters along the floor in pain, then stopping in mid-drag to look at the audience and say “”Hey, I’d better cut this out, I may get to like it!” – was apparently inserted by Clampett in the expectation that it would never survive the censor’s scissors. But it did.

The highlight of the cartoon, though, is A. Flea’s Clampett-penned theme song – “There’s food around the corner!” – which will stick in your head all day like a pesky parasite once you watch the film below.

To underline Clampett’s proto-punk sensibility, the tune was later covered by Green Day.

Weekend Tune: A Not-So-Quick One

5 Nov

In December of 1968, The Rolling Stones filmed a televised concert special for the BBC, featuring themselves, the Who, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, and others.”The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” was shot in front of a live audience on a set decorated as a big top, and featured acrobats, clowns and other circus performers appearing between the star musical acts.

It took two days to record the event. Then, it took almost 28 years for the entire film to see the light of day.

Why? Because – the legend goes – the Who’s performance of a single song was so much better than the Stones’ performance of six of their own songs that Mick, Keith et al. were too embarrassed to let the footage see the light of day. The film lived on in legend only for many years (although the Who’s performance was first seen in the 1979 documentary “The Kids Are Alright”) until it was finally released theatrically in the ’90s. A really great DVD version came out a couple of years ago and is worth seeking out.

So did the Who whomiliate the Stones? Judge for yourself. First, here’s the Who doing “A Quick One While He’s Away”, Pete Townshend’s first attempt at a mini-rock-opera, released several years before “Tommy”:

Next, here’s the Stones’ opening number, the then-just-released Jumpin’ Jack Flash. They were introduced… kinda… by John Lennon and their performance in the film was the group’s last featuring Brian Jones, shortly before he was kicked out of the band, and later found dead:

Just for good measure, here’s Lennon, Yoko writhing in a bag by his feet, fronting an amazing ad-hoc supergroup dubbed “The Dirty Mac” – Clapton, Keith Richards and drummer Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience – and performing “Yer Blues”, another then-just-released track off the Beatles’ White Album: