Sunday, December 31, 2006


I'm going to be writing about some movies with Memphis music in them for a freelance piece I'm preparing so these entries may read as a little notebook-y. Feel free to skip if you're so inclined.

Mystery Train is Jim Jarmusch's fourth feature film and, according to the critical consensus, one of his least successful. It's a favorite of mine, however, if only for the time at which I saw it and the fact that it contains too many Keith-pleasing elements—the South, rock and roll, the time-capsule presentation of a particular place at a particular time—not to be a favorite. Mystery Train was the first film I rented from Four Star Video Heaven—where I would later work—in Madison, Wisconsin after moving there to go to attend grad school in 1995. It was a time when I was falling hard for Jarmusch and, beneath that, an entire way to approaching film that I'd never experienced before. I first saw Jarmusch as part of a double feature on campus at Lancaster University in 1994 where the film society screened Stranger Than Paradise and Night On Earth (along with the Tom Waits/Iggy Pop segment of what would become Coffee And Cigarettes). I'd never seen a movie like Stranger before. The takes were long. The camera stationary. The dialogue circular. The story eventually went somewhere, but it didn't get there fast. The settings were an unglamorous corner of New York, the snowiest winter in Cleveland, and a mostly hotel-bound trip to Florida, all shot in the same grainy black and white. It was as much about how people behaved while attending to the mundane details of their lives and negotiating the minefields of friends and family relations as any grand dramatic incident. Wherever you go, the most important things tend to take place in small rooms filled with familiar faces. To me it was revolutionary. Now I know it was part of a different, minimal tradition. Heck, Jarmusch even namechecks Ozu in the dialogue.

It was another year before I'd see Jarmusch again. The video stores in Springfield, Ohio didn't stock his films, for some reason. It was a happy reunion and, revisiting Mystery Train I found it held up well, even if it's never better than its opening segment starring Masatoshi Nagase (Jun) and Youki Kudoh (Mitsuko) as Japanese rockabillies making a Memphis pilgrimage. They arrive, and leave, by train, to the tune of the title song. On their arrival its played by Elvis. On their departure by its originators, Little Junior's Blue Flames, who recorded in 1953, two years before Elvis. It was written by Junior Parker, the Blue Flames'. Upon arrival, they argue over where to go first, Sun Records or Graceland. She wants Graceland first. He wants Sun. She loves Elvis. He's partial to Carl Perkins, but this seems to be as much an issue of contrarionism as taste. He keeps a cigarette tucked behind his ear, just behind a careful pompadour. He wears a neat, green jacket.

It's a Japanese approximation of a tough, American rock and roll cat, but Jarmusch doesn't really play it for laughs. Like those two versions of "Mystery Train," it's all a matter of interpretation. Junior Parker wrote "Mystery Train." Elvis, or somebody, added to the lyric. But where does it really come from? You can chase that Mystery Train back further. Furry Lewis—a Beale Street fixture as both a performer and a street sweeper—cut a song called "Good Looking Blues" in 1927 that sings of a train "sixteen coaches long." Did he dream it up, or does the phrase go back further? Does it predate the trains themselves?

Sun or Graceland? Significantly, these seem to be the only points of interest for the tourists. Memphis has gotten flattened out between Tennessee and Yokohama but the real Memphis has other plans for them. That's none other than Memphis music godfather Rufus Thomas—he of Sun and Stax and WDIA and "Walking The Dog" and its countless sequels—who greets them at the train station (a spot as nearly deserted as the Amtrak train that brings them into town. Sun Records comes first by accident. They're ushered into the famous studio then assualted with a tour guide's spiel that segues from "race music" to endless chatter about Elvis at a rapid clip. Elvis cannot be escaped. Here is a room that's played host to the recording of "Rocket 88," the early work of B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, virtually every blues and gospel artist in Memphis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and on and on. But he's bigger than it all. They'll later meet him as a statue and, in her scrapbook, see his image juxtaposed against the statue of a Middle Eastern King, Buddha, the Statue Of Liberty, and Madonna. Jun: "Elvis was even more influential than I thought." It's an understatement.

Elvis is everywhere but he's also elusive and unobtainable. Standing in his t-shirt, watching a train pass by, Jun's image falls apart. He's a skinny kid with a scowl chasing a sound of freedom first heard on a Walkman many miles away. In the love scene that follows, he proves himself no tiger. He's 18 and stiill growing into an image that may not work out for him in the end.

Elvis is just as elusive for Nicoletta Braschi in the film's second segment. An Italian woman returning to Rome with her husband's body, she becomes an accidental tourist in Memphis. She's also a dupe—sort of—for every hustler to pass her way. She's a knowing dupe, however, one who goes along with their schemes just because it's easier, and more polite, not to call bullshit. First she's talked into buying an armful of magazines. Later, in a diner, she's subjected by Tom Noonan to a long story about picking up the ghost of Elvis who told him to give her a comb... But there is a small delivery fee. Lonely, she agrees to share her room with Elizabeth Bracco, who's just left her husband and can't afford the $22 room in the rundown hotel presided over by manager Screamin' Jay Hawkins and bellboy Cinqué "brother of Spike" Lee. (It's the same place Jun and Mitsuko stay.) But then she has an authentic encounter with the ghost of Elvis himself. Has he come lookng for his comb after all? It's never quite clear. Before fading away he simply says, politely, "I musta got the wrong address or somethin’. I gotta go.” There's no escaping Elvis. But what Elvis means remains up for debte. (In a quirk of history, the actor who looks so eerily like the young Elvis is Stephen Jones, the husband of Paula Jones who was only a few years away from her own alleged hotel encounter with our most Elvis-ish president.)

"I can't get rid of that fucking guy," laments Joe Strummer playing a hard-luck character referred to by his almost exclusively black friends as "Elvis." (Funniest exchange in the whole movie: Strummer: "Don't call me Elvis! If you can't use my proper name, why don't you try "Carl Perkins, Jr." or something? I mean, I don't call them "Sam & Dave", do I?" Black guy: "Hey man, my name is Dave.") Soon he'll be on the run in all the most neglected parts of Memphis, the places where tourists in town for Sun and Graceland would never go, bad neighborhoods with openly racist liquor store clerks, the crumbling remains of a years-from-being-revived-Stax, the spots underneath the rail lines where nobody goes, beneath the place the trains run, keeping their secrets from those who they delivers and those they whisk away.

(Follow up: Greil Marcus' Mystery Train, Robert Gordon's It Came From Memphis, Peter Guralnick's Last Train To Memphis, look into Furry Lewis)


Okay, it's a new year and a new birthday. (I'm a spry 34 now.) So it seems like as good a time as any to revive this thing. Also, I've got a few freelance projects I'm working on, so I'll be taking some notes here as it progresses (hopefully quickly since it's due in a couple of week.)

What's been happening here during the hiatus you ask? It's been busy, and not always in a good way. Stevie's grandfather died after a long illness. It was sad and entirely expected. His mind was clouded by illness in his final years, but his love for Stevie shone through until the very end. He was a brick mason, WWII submariner, and a tremendous fan of the Jackie Gleason Orchestra. I'm happy to have known him.

Otherwise we've been busy with work and vacation. Ireland was a long, good time. We ended up mostly driving around and looking at stuff by day then drinking in the pubs at night. I couldn't have asked for a better time. Work's been keeping both of us plenty busy. I think I'm finally getting the hang of publishing daily on the web and I've finally been writing more, so that's good. The past few weeks have been especially busy. We basically put together four issues at a time, which left me headachy at the end of every day. It revived my faith in Excel and the virtues of planning well-ahead, but the subsequent days off have been nice.

Not that I won't be busy: Starting January 2 (I believe), I'll be taking part in Slate's annual movie club, a year-end round-up of the past year in film. I'll be hashing it out with Slate's Dana Stevens, Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe, and Carina Chocano of The L.A. Times. How I ended up in such esteemed company I'll never know. I'm just going to try my best not to embarrass myself.

One other thing going on: Our cat Oscar--that's him in my thumbnail photo--has taken ill. He's lost a substantial amount of weight in a short of amount of time. The vet's diagnosis is kidney failure. Her prognosis is that with medicine and special food he might be able to hang around for a while, which would be nice. He's turned into a an old man of a cat pretty rapidly, however, so I don't know. At my birthday party the other night it occurred to me that I've had a longer relationship with Oscar than with anyone else at the table except one person. (Heya Anne!) I'll certainly miss him when he's not around anymore.

Okay, there's a big meaty post for anyone still reading. More to come.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Yeah, I know. It's been a long time. I've got an excuse, namely the long transition to daily content over at The A.V. Club. But, no, I haven't given this blog up. Things have just started to get back to normal with my schedule. But I'm also going away. For 10 days. To Ireland, a country that I love. Maybe I'll check in here. No promises. But when I get back, I plan to resume this project so we can all glory in the mundane details of my life, the movies I see, the books I read, and the animals with which I live. (Not Stevie. She's lovely.)

So, bye! See you in a bit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Sorry, I'm too tired/lazy to do separate posts for recent concerts. Why? We've been redesigning The A.V. Club and it's been a little exhausting. And I didn't even do the heavy lifting on the project. I'm happy with it. But then that doesn't have anything to do with this post which is about seeing...

Paul Burch at Schuba's on Saturday: I wasn't that familiar with Paul Burch until my friend Noel insisted I hear/review his new album East To West. Thanks, Noel. Burch, who's played with Lambchop and put out several solo albums, is an exquisite songwriter who performs with an unabashed affection for honky-tonk twang. The show wasn't packed—I guess my "A-" only carries so much weight in this town—but it was well worth turning out for. Jon Langford opened the show with typical bon homie. Stevie met him and he seemed surprised that she liked The Mekons since apparently most of their fans are fiftyish, bearded men.

The next night we headed up to Ravinia, Chicago's venerable outdoor concert venue, to see Cheap Trick. A note about
Ravinia, or more specifically, the Ravinia Festival as it's called. Originally an amusement park built in 1904, the Highland Park location has served as the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1906 and has been primarily used as a concert venue since a private corporation rescued it from bankruptcy in 1911. THere's a democratic spirit behind it. You can get there by train and lawn tickets are cheap, allowing visitors to sit, picnic, and drink. That's usually our choice, but for Cheap Trick we had pavillion seats, and excellent seats at that since The Onion was sponsoring it. Nevermind democracy.

The show was, of course, excellent. There may be no more reliable live act than Cheap Trick. I've seen them at a glorified bar in Arena, Wisconsin, at the classy Vic Theater here in Chicago, and at a taping of Conan O'Brien and they never disappoint, god bless 'em. And if the music sucked, the guitars are entertaining. Sunday night Rick Nielsen played both a five-necker and a guitar shaped like a younger version of himself. Did I mention that I love Cheap Trick?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I haven't posted yet about all the veterinary woes we've had this summer. Short version: All the animals have had non-life-threatening but nonetheless impossible-to-ignore ailments. Sophie developed reflux and now needs prescription food. Oscar had to have his teeth cleaned which revealed that he actually had to have several teeth pulled which somehow ended up with him having a wire in his jaw. It's been exhausting. And expensive. And hopefully it ended yesterday when we took the cats in for their yearly shots and had Superstar shaved. Yes, shaved. At some point she neglected to keep grooming herself below her forelegs leaving her fur matted into little kittie dreadlocks. Clearly radical steps were needed resulting in this:

Here's the before shot:

Yes, it's pathetic, But she seems much happier now, although it's led to Sophie harrassing her all the more, perhaps mistaking her for a new cat. Why do we own animals again?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

This is less a post than a request for information. While checking out Wikimapia, Wikipedia's globe-mapping project (slogan: "Let's describe the whole Earth!") I naturally drifted to Englewood, Ohio, the suburb of Dayton I call home. (A side note: I'm currently returning from a trip there and enjoying the free Internet access at the Dayton International Airport.) Naturally, one of the landmarks singled out for description was the Englewood Dam, one of several massive dirt dams built in response to the Dayton floods of 1913. It's a remarkable structure that's also the base for a mile-long stretch of Route 40, the original cross-country highway that's since been more or less supplanted by Interstate 70.

So here's what Wikimapia says about the dam: "The largest dam maintained by the Miami Conservancy district, it was constructed in 1919 and consists of as much earth as the Great Pyramid of Giza." That last bit's news to me, but it makes sense. Then the entry takes a strange turn. "This was the haunt of the Phantom of Route 40 (the National Road) circa 1952." Wha huh? I grew up around there a couple of decades later and never heard anything about any phantom. Seeking out information, I went to Forgotten Ohio, a website maintained by Andrew Henderson, author of Weird Ohio and Forgotten Columbus. I came across a somewhat chilling account of a ghost girl said to haunt the dam, but this didn't sound like my phantom.

A Google search yields this item from the Englewood Independent referencing a Route 40 exhibit has this reference: "Visitors to the society's history tent can enjoy listening to a recording by Jim Colegrove of 'The Phantom of Route 40,' a song that tells the story of the harrowing experiences of truck drivers crossing the Englewood Dam in 1952." Elsewhere, you can find the lyric to the song, but it doesn't shed as much light on the phenomenon as you might expect, apart from referencing a skeletal phantom and a sheriff who dared to challenge him.

So, anyone out there know what this is all about?

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

[I'm in Ohio visiting my parents]

MOM: What's that?
ME: That's my MySpace page. See, there's Stevie, and Gregg and Jay.
MOM: I don't see your parents on there.
ME: That's because you're not on MySpace.
MOM: Oh, I've been hearing about that. Keith, I'm glad we didn't have the Internet when you were growing up. We were watching Dateline the other night and they had set up a camera to trap these guys who were meeting you girls. You be careful on there.
ME: Mom, I'm not going to seduce young girls on the Internet.
MOM: Well, I know, I just... Be careful what you watch.
ME: Huh?
MOM: With the chat rooms and everything. Marriages are breaking up over the Internet and...

[At this point the conversation kind of tapers off.]

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On Tuesday morning I received the type of call it would be a lot more glamorous to pretend I received all the time.

THEM: This is ____ from Jive Records.
ME: Hi.
THEM: Do you want to see Justin TImberliake tonight at the House Of Blues?
ME: Umm....
THEM: I need to know in the next seven minutes.
ME: I will get back to you.

I don't mind Justin TImberlake, honestly. He's got some great singles and that new song, "Sexyback," has just beaten me down. My first reaction was, I'm not sure I like this. But the song kept insisting, "No, you're going to like me." And on the 40th or so involuntary listening, I agreed.

So, I said yes tot the tickets. And, I guess I'm glad we went. It was weird. The place was packed and it took forever to get in even though we had access to the VIP Foundation Room. We passed that to stand on the floor where Stevie kept getting elbowed by some drunken secretatry types who looked like they were no stranger to deep-fried foods.

I honestly don't know how I felt about the show, which we abandoned after five songs. The guy can sing, and beatbox, pop and lock, and play guitar and piano. I appreciate the showmanship. But on some level I'm not sure he's an entertainer. It all seems to be an enormous ego trip done not for your benefit but for his. It's probably no coincidence that his best song, "Cry Me A River," is also the one moment he lets himself seem vulnerable. The evening had one truly hall-of-fame strange moment: A song that ended with the riff from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" played repeatedly. Was I the only one who felt liked they'd stepped into another, strange world at that moment?

Timberlake deserves credit for keeping it organic. This was a heavily rehearsed, entirely live show. But I'm not sure his music is improved by being organic. Or live at all, for that matter. And how's this for patter: "Hey Chicago, we're going to play some new songs for you tonight. We picked the ones we thought Chicago would especially like. And if not, fuck you." Classy. Thing is the crowd talked over them anyway. I guess it doesn't matter if you're Justin Timberlake or The Mountain Goats, the new stuff just never goes over.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006


This photo:

This sends me to Frownland.

(Found on Gawker.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


This just makes me sad, not as sad as this had-to-be-reported, had-to-be-shown-in-the-video-format story further down the page:

But still sad.

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Monday, August 14, 2006


All this week I'll be guest-blogging at Comedy Central Insider, the Comedy Central blog. It's a week-long recap of William Shatner's career leading up to the Comedy Central Roast Of William Shatner which airs Sunday. (I'll be live-blogging that.) So, check it out if you get a chance.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tom Waits inexplicably announced a brief tour a few weeks ago and Chicago was his final stop. Waits rarely tours and nobody tours on the spur of the moment. And yet, three nights ago, there we were at the Auditorium Theater, home of the Joffrey Ballet, watching Waits pound through a set. Waits was someone I never thought I'd see live, so a lot of the show was overwhelmed simply by the "whoa" factor of it all. When he sat at the piano for a too-brief solo set, it was like we'd wandered into the cover of Closing Time, albeit with less peroxide.

That's no snub against the band, however, who brough Waits' shambling, experimental blues and ballads (or in the term he's using for his forthcoming rarities box set Orphans, "Brawlers, bawlers, and bastards") to vivd life. Waits' son Casey even played drums; he looks like his dad as reinvented by a WB drama. But it was Waits' magnetism that drove the evening, and I've got few complaints except that my ideal Waits set would pull from a more career-spanning selection, especially since I wasn't nuts about Blood Money or Real Gone. But the performances here made me reevaluate that assessment a bit and I left thinking that if Kelly Clarkson could record the anti-war ballad "The Day After Tomorrow," we could end the conflict in the Middle East in two weeks.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006


I'm doing some William Shatner research for something I'm writing somewhere else (cryptic, sorry, more later) and, wow, is there a lot of great stuff on You Tube. Here's two clips to treasure.

Shatner performs Harry Chapin's "Taxi" on the Dinah Shore show:

Shatner "beams down" to talk about the future of computing, circa 1982:

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Still exhausted from this and I don't have much to say about day three aside from I guess I'm glad I went. The Hold Steady was a good way to start the day, but from there it was a whole lot of wanderin' around in search of acts that would turn out to be disappoint. The Shins might have been on fire, but no one in the crowd would have noticed. Their sound mix was muddy and too quiet and the audience's frequent chants of "Turn it up! Turn it up!" prompted nobody to remedy the situation. Too bad, too. That's a great band and they were playing before what had to have been their biggest crowd ever. I felt bad for everyone. We heard Andrew Bird waiting for The Shins--we'd seen him before and liked him--and Poi Dog Pondering waiting for Wilco. I still like Poi Dog's early stuff; this sounded kind of annoying. Wilco was... unsettling. Jeff Tweedy looked puffy, hairy, and bit beaten up. It's weird: Seeing favorite bands is sometimes like seeing old friends and realizing that the years between must have been awful hard on them. The set didn't really gel until the end, although the new songs sounded really promising. One of them sounded a bit like the Dead, but in that good American Beauty-era way, like Ryan Adams' Cold Roses. We bailed after that.

But it was a good time, even if the seams started to show on day three. Here are some odds and ends in picture form.

At one point the (lame) art area was to be called "Who Arted?" Cooler, or at least smarter, heads apparently prevailed and the name got switched to "Who Art Thou?", an awful name, but a considerably less awful name. But the switch must have happened after most of the brochures and festival banners got printed. Wandering around one of the less trafficked areas, we found this lonely sign behind a fence:

Teens offer free hugs. (Tips accepted.)

Tweedy on the Jumbotron.

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Candy Cigarettes welcomes Needledrop to the blogosphere. Needledrop is the creation of Joe Garden, a writer for The Onion and a pal for years. He's also no stranger to the Internet. You can read about his ongoing campaign to take over NBC's Late Night show upon Conan O'Brien's departure at the Vote Joe website. Also, he's hilarious and he looks like this:

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Here was my plan for yesterday:
12:30 Nada Surf
1:30 The Go! Team
2:30 Built To Spill
3:30 Wolfmother
4:30 Sonic Youth
6:30 Common
7:30 New Pornographers
8:30 Kanye West

But, to paraphrase the news, what happens on the ground has a way of changing resolutions. Lollapalooza is set up with two large areas with two sizable stages each on opposite ends of Grant Park. Which is great if you want to see something on one of the two stages close to each other, and not so great if you want to catch shows that immediately following one another at opposite ends of the park. So the Go! Team was out, as much as I love them, and so was Wolfmother, as awesome as I think they are. But, still, not a bad day's worth of music. Let's do it hour by hour.

12:30 Our day starts with Nada Surf and the band appears happy to play both for the cult-like following tuned into its big-sounding, emotional power pop and early arrivers who know them mostly for the novelty hit "Popular" (it's number two in the set.) As much as I like the band, they sound even better live than I'd expected. Maybe that's because it's singer Matthew Caws' birthday. Halfway through the set, Caws delivers the most literate shout-out of the day: "How many of you have read Devil In The White City?" At least a dozen people cheer.

1:30 This lull in the action would be a great time to check out some of the side areas like Mindfield (comedy troupes, short films and the like) and the art area, Who Art Thou? But we don't, mostly because we're hungry but also because no one I'm with can get past Who Art Thou's original name, "Who Arted?" Somewhere between the time the pamphlets were printed and the area constructed, cooler heads prevailed.

2:30 Built To Spill can be one of the best live acts out there, but they get off to a slow start today, only buildiing up to ramming speed at the halfway mark. That's part of the problem with festivals: By the time some acts get going their hour's almost up. But the home stretch was amazing, highlighted by a stirring cover of The Gladiators' "Re Arrange" (I think that's the song). Here's the chorus: "Ask not what your country can do for you but question what you can do for your country." Nobody missed the point. The set further confirmed my suspicion that BTS is the connective fiber between the indie rock crowd and the jam band set. Nearly everyone around me was smoking something and there were quite a few twirly dances going on.

3:30 Calexico sounds great although we take a break from the crowd and hang out toward the back. They send a cover of "Aloneagainor" out to the late, great, Arthur Lee.

4:30 Time for Sonic Youth. Somehow I've never seen them before and now I regret every chance I missed. The set begins with "Incinerate" from the new Rather Ripped and ends with a song "probably written before you were born," by Kim Gordon's assessment. They're a living testament to what it means to really be in a band. Twenty-five years and 20 albums into Sonic Youth's career, they have an almost telepathic chemistry. Anyone wanting to make music their life should have made it a point to be in the audience.

6:30 After making the long trek acorss Grant Park and eating a "dinner" of Connie's Pizza (the local pizza ubiquitous at all Chicago sporting events and festivals; I love it but it stretches the definition of "meal") we find our places for Common who, as someone else pointed out, breaks with the pattern of starting a set slow and building from there. He starts with a pounding string of tracks from last year's Be. Then it was time for keyboard, drum, and DJ solos, all of which were fine until it descended into smooth-jazz improvisation. Being Common, it was the coolest smooth-jazz improvisations you've ever heard, but it still felt half-brilliant, half-indulgent. One further diappointment: Always a dapper dresser, Common took the stage wearing a t-shirt. True, it probably cost more than my last dental bill, but there are standards to uphold.

7:30 The New Pornographers' Carl Newman seems baffled both by the fact he's playing Lollapalooza and that he's playing between Common and Kanye West. He seems to enjoy himself and the band sounds typically tight, even if Neko Case and Dan Bejar's absence seems more notable than the last time we saw them. Toward the end, Newman starts welcoming the Kanye fans flooding in.

8:30 Kanye West plays to a hometown crowd and appears to have a much better time doing it than the last time we saw him at the UIC Pavillion, apart from some loud, angry complaints about some sound problems. The show brought the day to a truly spectacular end. West trotted out guest stars like Common, Twista, and Lupe Fiasco (whose "Kick Push" almost stole the show) and played hit after hit for a bouncing crowd beneath the Chicago skyline. This was the transcendent show we'd hoped to see earlier this year, and a great way to end the day. Despite the corporate trappings, the heat, and the lines, it made Lollapalooza feel almost utopian. We expected a great day of music, but I'm not sure anyone expected that.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006


"For every happy hello there will be goodbye"

(Reposted from The A.V. Club blog:)

In expected sad news, Love frontman Arthur Lee has died of leukemia. Lee was 61 and died in Memphis. Musically Lee didn't fit easily into a single category. With Love he helped pioneer psychedelic rock in the mid-'60s, but the first Love track to attract much attention was a cover of a Bacharach and David composition called "My LIttle Red Book." The name fit with the spirit of the era, but Love had a harder edge to it that would be an influence on the metal acts of the '70s, particularly Led Zeppelin. The band's best known album, 1967's Forever Changes took the innovations of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper and melded them to a spirit that was alternately utopian and apocalyptic. It's the sound of a world that doesn't know if it's recreating itself or blowing itself up.

From there Love sputtered out and Lee wrestled with some personal demons in virtual anonymity and later in prison. Lee's last years were ones of increased recognition, however, if not increased happiness. Forever Changes began to turn up regularly on all-time best-of lists and Wes Anderson incorporated Love's music into his debut feature Bottle Rocket, bringing in a new generation of fans. Lee also toured with a new Love line-up over the past few years.

Lee's influence stretches from Zeppelin to Robyn Hitchcock to Calexico and outward from there. He was and remains an elusive figure, a hippie-garbed black man mixing with the Sunset Strip scene while chasing a vision more complicated than flowers in the hair, an artist who shone brightly and then faded quickly. But the light has kept its heat.

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This is going to be short one since much of yesterday was a battle between rock and roll fandom and responsible adulthood. Specifically, I had to wait around for a new refrigerator when I wanted to be at the show. Maybe it was more a battle between wants and needs. I wanted to see Eels, Ryan Adams, and Mates Of State. But I needed to eat unspoiled food.

Once it arrived, I left for Grant Park in time to catch the opening notes of The Raconteurs. Sounded great, but I wanted to see My Morning Jacket. They also sounded great, but I got pulled away so we could get a prime position for Sleater-Kinney's next-to-last show. That was okay. I'll see MMJ next time they're in town. Sleater-Kinney's not coming this way again.

You know there's anticipation for the show when the drummer's soundcheck gets a round of applause. It would be great to report they put on a transcendent show from start to finish. It started great and it got transcended, but it lulled a bit in the middle. And as much as I liked The Woods I would have loved to have heard a more career-spanning set. The emotions ran high in the crowd even if it looked like business as usual on the stage. When they finished, the crowd chanted for "one more song." But that was it.

Death Cab For Cutie started up across the field. They sounded good--and surprisingly arena-filling--but we kept our distance. Funny detail: It was easy to tell the age and sex of the average Death Cab fan these days by the high pitch of the cheers.

Today, nothing but rock and roll. Then, cold food when we get home.

Some Sleater-Kinney gig photos:

And who doesn't?

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Thursday, August 03, 2006


(On June 10, 2006, I purchased a box of 75+ vintage paperbacks, mostly sci-fi and adventure books, from a Half-Price Books And Records in Lincolnwood, IL. I am reading all of them. This is book 4.)

Part of what first attracted me to the big box of paperbacks--the contents of which, for the record, I have removed from the box and placed on a shelf--was that it contained a complete set of Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels. (Although I can't remember if it contains The Man With The Golden Gun, which some argue wasn't mostly written by Fleming anyway.) Consequently, a sub-project of this Big Box Of Paperbacks Project will be reading each of these. So why not start with the first one, particularly since it's the source of the next big-screen Bond movie? (This won't be spoiler-free, sorry.)

I'd never read any of Fleming's books before, not even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I knew Bond exclusively from the movies, so it was difficult reading this to move the setting back from the 1960s and all the trappings one associates with Sean Connery-era Bond to the 1950s when it was written and set. Although, in some ways, it wasn't that difficult. The Bond found here lives in a grittier world than the Bond of the movies and he's charged with a simple, however, improbable task: Defeat a French communist union leader by beating him at baccarat, thus forcing him to face the music with the Soviet intelligence agency SMERSH whose money he's squandered on a chain of brothels.

Fleming's Bond, in this book at least, is less the world-traveling bon vivant than a man of very specific tastes (which he apparently shared with Fleming) who practically cramps up when he has to turn introspective, particularly when women are involved. I remember Alan Moore writing somewhere, in a piece that attempted to peel back several heroic icons, that Bond was driven by his hatred of women. That seemed a little joy-killing to me, but it's there on the page. The sub-plot here involves Bond letting his innate disdain for women fall aside long enough to romance a fellow agent named Vesper Lynd, who seems to be acceptable to Bond because she's not particularly womanly, once you get past the way her lovingly described clothes fit on her body. There's a fascinating passage in which he reflects on his disdain for every facet of the courting process. "The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement," Fleming writes, continuing:

He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affiar. The conventional paraboa--sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the finall bitterness--was to him shameful and hypocritical

With Vesper it's different and he give himself over to it instantly, even considering giving up the service after the book's initial adventure draws to a close. (And interestingly, it's not Bond who defeats the bad guy.) Of course she's a double-agent. The book ends with her suicide and Bond's recommitment to the spy game and the dismissive words, "The bitch is dead now." With his notes of cruelty and misogyny (both reportedly not confined to the screen), Connery was expert casting.

In some ways it reads more like an origin story than a proper adventure, and I was surprised by the exhausted, world-weary tone of the book. It's not sophisticated like John LeCarre, but there's a similar sense of the toll espionage takes on the soul.

More on Fleming and Bond further down the line. But for now, here's two nuggets: Fleming describes Bond as looking like a Hoagy Carmichae ("but cold and ruthless." (Apparently some described Fleming that way as well.) And the drink Bond orders quite memorably early in the book isn't the vodka martini, shaken not stirred of the movies. It's this: "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?"

Got it. But I don't think I could drink it. I like a good, stiff drink as much as anyone, but I can't imagine moving after that, much less besting anyone at baccarat.

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After almost making excuses--the miserable weather, concert fatique, general fatique, a looming storm--Stevie and I made the short trek down to Schuba's for the second of two appearances from Grant-Lee Phillips. I was always more distantly approving of Phillips' old band Grant Lee Buffalo than rabidly enthusiastic about them, but I've really enjoyed his last couple of solo releases and his semi-regular appearances as Stars Hollow's trouboador on Gilmore Girls' has greatly endeared him to me. Phillips is touring behind his latest album nineteeneihties, a set of acoustic, stripped down '80s alt-rock classsics from New Order to Robyn Hitchcock to Echo And The Bunnymen. It sounds like blatant catnip for the thirtysomething coffeeshop crowd, and maybe it began that way, but it evolved into a terrific album that showcases Phillips' interpretive skills and deep, evocative voice. ("Male Vocalist of the Year, 1995 --Rolling Stone") Phillips didn't dig that deep into the album, which was a little odd, but the evening worked anyway. Playing with just a drummer since his bassist apparently hurt his back, he balanced some unapologetically dour songs with unexcpectedly upbeat, even slightly cheeseball patter. And he played my favorite GLB song, the title track from Mighty Joe Moon. When we came out, the weeks' long heat wave had given way to a violent, air-cooling storm. It was a good evening.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sorry for the delay in posting. I blame the heat. Stevie and I woke up from Day 2 of the Pitchfork Festival feeling as if we'd been on a bender. But the most powerful thing I had to drink was a Goose Island orange soda ("made with real sugar!"). Anyway, Day 2 was really good. After muscling past a group of "Buddhist monks" shilling for a contest--real Buddhists tend not to get that excited about your chances to win $10,000 if you log on to a website--we caught the tale end of Tapes N Tapes. We skipped Danielson because nobody had had "breakfast" yet but made it for most of Jens Lenkman and his white-clad all-girl band, some of whom looked like they were about 14. It had the weird effect of suggesting that Lenkman was touring with the Von Trapp family, as someone else observed. I really like Lenkman, even more after seeing him live. He's clever. Sometimes he's a bit too clever, but it's from the heart. All those Jonathan Richman comparisons make sense.

From there it was off to the most intense set of the the day, The National. There was some doubt going in whether or not the sound would translate to a live setting, especially an outdoor festival setting. Singer Matt Berringer put that to rest. I don't think I was the only one in the crowd who worried he would pass out.

From there it was off to the unlistenable Liars followed by Aesop Rock and Mr. Lif. I was a little off to the side for this, more out of intertia—we'd laid down a blanket—than a lack of interest. Sounded good, though. Mission Of Burma, however, sounded like nothing else. Did these guys really take two decades off? It sounds like they'd been rehearsing since Vs.. So very good. I first heard of them when I learned R.E.M. were fans, even performing "Academy Fight Song" when I saw them in '89. Then they were an obscure, never-to-perform again Boston act. Rock and roll never forgets, I guess.

Yo La Tengo was, typically, great, although they could have played something not from their unreleased new album. I was excited to see Devendra Banhart but it just doesn't translate live, or at least not here. Spoon, however, sounded much better than I'd ever heard them before. Then, to my eternal shame, we bailed on another surprise reunion, Tropicalia legends Os Mutantes. But it was time to go. We started sweating at one and never stopped and all the Water Plus in the world wasn't going to make me feel better. (I will turn in my film critic's license on Friday.)

One more picture before I go:

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

A few things you should know going in: It was hot. Way, way hot. We kept hydrated with something called "Water Plus," available at a dollar per fairly large bottle. (The "plus" is electrolytes and vitamins or something.) Second, I arrived late, later than the rest of my party, although that wasn't my fault. So I missed Hot Machines, Chin Up Chin Up, Man Man, Band Of Horses (whose album is great), Mountain Goats (never been a fan), Destroyer (too bad), and the beginning of Art Brut. Also it was crowded and we hung out toward the back, which was fine, but today I'd like to get a little closer. Mostly, what I saw looked like this:

And this:

(Stevie and I looked like this:)

But it sounded pretty great. Everyone questions their staying power, but for now Art Brut proves that you can be clever and rock at the same time. Favorite moments: The expanded version of "Moving To L.A." with its variations on "I'm drinking Hennessey with Morrissey," like "I'm drinking sherry with Bryan Ferry" and "I'm drinking gin with Vera Lynn." Also, the singer kept referring to his band in the third person, e.g. "Art Brut, are you ready?" I like The Walkmen's new album better with each listen, but the show basically confirmed that they should have thrown in a few more of the "hits" that the last one was so chock full of. The Futureheads were quite good, although I kept thinking of Simon Reynolds' assessment of the new wave of post-punk that's sprung up: It sounds great, but what's it rebelling against? But, whatever. It sounds great. We left about halfway through the Silver Jews' set, not because it wasn't entertaining. It was. But nature called and the thought of using one of the Port-O-Lets in the dark drove us away.

Today is the hardcore, all-day 'til-it-ends day. Yikes.

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To the dogs who bullied my dog at the dog park on Friday, forcing us to leave early:

Come on dogs, all Sophie wanted to was play. But two of you—and you know who you are—just kept ganging up on her, nipping at her, and making it so she couldn't move. And another one of you, I don't even want to talk about what you tried to do. Sophie is a very nice dog who just wants to play. And she can even play rough and keep up with the liveliest dogs out there. But you'll never know, will you, dogs. We'll take our antics elsewhere.

Bad dogs. Bad,

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Saturday, July 29, 2006


To the guy in the white van who almost hit me running a red light in front of Dominick's on Division Street yesterday around 12:30pm:

Hey guy. Look, we all make mistakes driving. It just happens, and in the best of situations nothing comes of it. But here's the deal: There's making mistakes and then there's blazing through a red line two seconds after it had turned. The usual, big city, pause-a-two-seconds before going through a green light you probably would have hit me, hard. Matthew Sweet's 100% Fun could have been the last album I ever heard, and I like that one just fine, but I'd rather go out listening to Astral Weeks or Pet Sounds or something. Thing is, this the second time this happened to me in about a week, and all within a three-block radius. (CD at the time: Rattlesnakes, by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.) I'm a pretty calm guy, by and large, but I spent the rest of the day wanting to find you and smash in your headlights. You're a dick. There I said it.


To Oliver Stone:

Hey Oliver, I just saw your movie World Trade Center. Look. I'm not going to mince words. I didn't like it so much. Thanks for not making some kooky, conspiracy theory-laden left-wing nutpiece. But did you have to make a glorified TV movie? I mean, seriously, remove the 9/11 framework and Nicolas Cage and you've got a my-husband-is-stuck-in-a-coal mine movie starring, I don't know, Beau Bridges or something. Boo.


To the MySpace users "Carrie," "Melissa," and "Christy" who recently invited me to be their friend:

Carrie and Melissa: So you were just browsing around, saw my profile and thought I looked cool, eh? It's funny, you two gals have really similar histories. In fact, you have word-for-word similar histories. I guess it is true that guys think it would be cool to date strippers then they get all jealous and that you need someone who's fun and laid back. Oh, and what's that? You've got a webcam I can link to? Um, no thanks. I'm a happily married man, as they say, and even if I weren't I don't think we'd be "friends."

"Christy," you get some points for having a different profile, much less polished-sounding profile. But I still wouldn't be interested, even if you didn't look like a total skank.

Keep on dancing,

To the five MySpace members who rated my image in MySpace's hot-or-not-like image-ranking area that I don't remamber submitting my image to for evaluation in the first place:

5.7? Really. I thought I looked a little better in that picture. But thanks for helping me stay proudly above average!

I don't like the way you look either,

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Monday, July 24, 2006


The most common complaints leveled at Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence have to do with the final segment, set many years ahead of the rest of the film. Its robot-boy protagonist, having sunk to the bottom of the ocean and gone into stasis, has outlived not just his creators but humanity as a whole. Whatever shape life on earth has taken, it’s left humanity behind it. The androids (if that’s even the right word) who have have superseded the human race treat him like a Rosetta Stone for understanding their own origins. Then they let him die, his shutting down the last exhausted sigh of a civilization that no longer had a place in the cosmos.

Frankly, I don’t get the hate, particularly from those who mistake it for a happy ending. It’s not. But it’s not what I’d call a tragic ending either. It’s a view of where we’re going that can make you reel with its distance and a sad bookend to the trippy humanism of A.I. originator Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. The ending doesn’t have much to do with the Brian Aldiss story that inspired it “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” or its sequels. But it has a lot to do with Aldiss, or at least the Aldiss I found in The Long Afternoon Of Earth, a novel published a few years earlier in Aldiss’ native U.K. in a slightly longer version called Hothouse.

It’s many years in the future and humanity has diminished, literally. Not only are humans fewer, they’re smaller too. They’re also one of the last examples of the animal kingdom. The earth’s rotation has slowed to a stop and the plants have taken over. What animals remain—fish, some insects, humans—act almost as parasites or, just as often, prey to the animal-like vegetables that rule the Earth and slightly beyond the Earth: spider-like Traversers travel along a web spun between the Earth and the moon, we find out a few chapters in.

It’s all incredibly imaginative, but I like the book best in its early chapters, when Aldiss lays out the social structure of his tree-dwelling protagonists and the ins-and-outs of life in a jungle where the sun never sets. It’s all quiet poetic, particularly the opening:

Obeying an inalienable law, things grew, spreading rioutous and strange in their instinct for growth.

The heat, the light, the humidity—these were constant and had remained constant for… but nobody new how long. Nobody cared any more for the big questions that begin “How long…?” or “Why…?” It was no longer a place for mind. It was a place for growth, for vegetables. It was like a hothouse.

It’s more postscript than post-apocalyptic. Much life has ended, humanity has wound down, and the sun is burning out (or blowng up), but there’s not necessarily a tragedy to it all, just a sense that a rest would soon come after a long struggle.

It’s almost a shame that it has to go about the business of being a novel and, in fact, Aldiss spends most of the remaining pages doing little more than describing the fantastic vegetable creatures of his hothouse world as his bland protagonist travels around in search of, well, it’s never quite clear. (And eventually an intelligent fungus takes over most of his brain functions and he stops acting of his own volition.) Worse, there are long passages and thoughtless repetitions where Aldiss is clearly writing just to fill the pages and he has a strange habit of sticking to his characters’ points of view and then pulling back to explain what has happened over the eons with chirpy omniscience. It feels like a cheat and it saps the exotic allure of the novel’s world.

But by and large I really liked this book, which is good because there’s plenty of Aldiss in the box. He’s an interesting character whom I knew little about before, with a past that included a troubled childhood, military service in Burma, a star-crossed would-be marriage, friendship with Kingsley Amis and Henry Harrison, financial ruin, an ‘80s comeback, and a current long, productive, alebit lonely writing jag at an age when most people putter around the house. (There’s a great profile from The Guardian here.) He’s also been adapted more than I’d thought. The current Brothers Of The Head is from 1977 novel and Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound is taken from Aldiss as well. He’s also written poetry, travel, and autobiography. I don’t know if he keeps plants.

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No real feat, I guess, but our housesitter Scott Gordon took some spirit-capturing footage of Sophie refusing to play fetch:

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Tomorrow Stevie and I are hitting the road (or the airways, anyway) for the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con. It's her first time there, and my second. (I've given her my copy of Gerard Jones' great history Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth Of The Comic Book for the plane ride. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the topic or even anyone who just wants to know what Kavalier And Clay was based on.) I'm going for work (and, of course) for pleasure. Stevie's going to meet the cast of Veronica Mars

A few specific goals this year:
• To successfully interview Big Movie Star X, with whom I have scheduled a one-on-one interview.
• To obtain a sketch from Brian Bolland or George Perez, both of whom will be in attendance
• To photograph some entertaining-looking costumed types for The A.V. Club

All seem pretty doable, but the place breeds chaos. I'll be checking in from time to time and posting regularly to The A.V. Club blog. Watching our place in our absence will be Young Scott Gordon of At Random fame. Presumably if the animals do anything particularly memorable, he'll make sure it gets documented. The world needs to know.

Monday, July 17, 2006


My wife, known to some online as editrix26 has started a new blog called The Race To The Bottom, a chronicle of an accidental competition between the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs to best (worst?) the 1962 Mets' all-time losingnest record. I like it, and I don't even recognize half the names she writes about. (She's by far the more sports savvy of us.) Please enjoy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Using I was able to piece together most of the home page of the brilliant 1999 Star Wars: The Phantom Menace promotion "Defeat The Dark Side," in which Colonel Sanders, the Taco Bell chihuahua and the hastily created Pizza Hut delivery girl teamed up to battle Sith Vader (or whatever his name was.) Enjoy. (And click to enlarge, please.)


Reposted from The A.V. Club blog:

I was in Minneapolis this past weekend and asked my hosts to take me to the landmark I most wanted to see: The house on the cover of The Replacements' Let It Be album. I probably don't need to refresh your memory, but just in case, here's the cover:

They graciously obliged. And here's a picture of it:

Two interesting things happened after I took this picture. First, two people climbed out on the roof, demonstrating that it could still be used for hanging-out puposes. Then I noticed the "for rent" sign:

I have no plans to move to the Twin Cities, but if I did, I would rent this house immediately, no matter what shape it was in, just to say I lived in the Let It Be house. Also, I'd love to conduct this experiment: What would happen if you sat on the roof of the Let It Be house while listening to Let It Be? Any thoughts? More on the trip later.

Friday, July 07, 2006



The cover to my edition of Carter Brown's The Flagellator boasts that there are "over 50,000,000 Carter Brown Books in print!" That may be an exaggeration, but apparently it's not an outrageous exaggeration. Other Carter Brown books you might enjoy:

Catch Me A Phoenix
The Deadly Kitten
Had I But Groaned
Nude With A View
Chinese Donovan
So What Killed The Vampire

Oh, why stop there. There's also Night Wheeler,The Pipes Are Calling, The Dame, The Corpse, The Desire, and on, and on, and on.

Never heard of Carter Brown? Me neither. But apparently he sold a lot of books, many of which can now be acquired for $1.49 and less at Amazon. Who was Carter Brown? According to this site, Carter Brown was a pseudonym for Alan G. Yates, who also wrote as Tex Conrad and Caroline Farr. Yates was born in England and moved to Australia after the war but set all his tales in America, a place he knew best from movies and other writers. Based on The Flagellator, which appeared in 1969 between Die Anytime, After Tuesday! and Murder Is The Message, he passes for Yank pretty well, apart from his use of the word "cheaters" when he means sunglasses.

The novel concerns the adventures of one Rick Holman, a well-compensated Los Angeles private eye hired to look into the near-death of a faded Hollywood star on the verge of a comeback. The cast of characters includes a nymphomaniacal secretary, the stars highly sexed assistant, a lecherous producer with a teen-fixation, and a pair of sociopaths. The eponymous "flagellator," a hot-tempered director (named Altman, no less), is actually one of the novel's duller characters. ("He uses his tongue instead of a whip... After a while people working for him wish he'd use a whip--—it would be a hell of a lot less painful.")

The story is fairly inventive, even if the characters don't really behave much like humans. Brown has a workmanlike prose style that occasionally finds a clever turn of phrase or poetic passage. On the star's downward career slope:
"So he signed her up to a penny-ante contract and brought her to Hollywood as just another cute fresh-faced kid with no discernible talent. For the next couple of years, he kept her happy with small parts in two bit movies the gonowheree except the desert wastes of late-night television."

"I guess it reassures them to know they're still alive," I volunteered helpfully. "No one's ever dead as long as there's late-night movies on television."

Brown's also quite enthusiastic about sex. A woman doesn't enter or leave a room without Holman noting and commenting, sometimes aloud, on her breasts and buttocks. I can't decide if this is sensationalistic or just a too-honest depiction of the male psyche. The big sex scene is explicit and a little clumsy. (Does anyone find the words "boobs" and "vagina" sexy?) I'm also guessing it appears at pretty much the same point it appears in other Brown novels. Not that I'm burning to find out, although I wouldn't call The Flagellator an unpleasant read. I also think I got through its 140 pages in about 90 minutes, not because I couldn't put it down, but because there was no compelling reason not to keep reading.

One definite disappointment, I must have a later, '70s-era printing, hence the lousy cover. The original cover looked like this:

But at least I did get a version with a cigarette ad inserted at the halfway point, presumably because that's a fine point to take a break and enjoy a smoke.


Reposted from The A.V. Club blog:

We’ve been talking about movie posters, of one form or another, in this blog all week and I need to say something: I am so bored of movie posters. And it’s not this blog’s fault. It’s the posters’ fault. Or, more specifically, it’s the posters from the past 15 years or so that bug me. I can only guess that there are solid marketing reasons behind the shift away from interesting art to simply slapping down the photographs of the stars and calling it a day, but part of what made going to the movies fun died a little when that trend became the standard, and especially when photos started to supplant illustrations. To wit:

I guess this tells you everything you need to know about the movie. It’s called Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Johnny Depp’s in it. It opens in 2006. It may have an octopus in it, but you have to squint to make sure. It’s okay. But where is the love? Why can’t it look more like this:

I haven’t seen either, but if I had to choose between either of these films based on posters alone, I’d be all over Comin’ At Ya. Look at it: Guns! Snakes! Bosomy women! Dynamite! And the audience is on its feet! And it must be true because it’s on the poster.

Let’s move on to exhibit B:

Okay. There’s Owen Wilson. He’s still funny, right? (Right?) Looks like he gets into some kind of mischief. But wouldn’t you rather see a movie that looks like this:

I see You, Me & Depree and I think, “There might be some hijinks in this one.” I look at the Blazing Stewardesses poster and I know hijinks are guaranteed.

Maybe it’s just that I prefer illustrations to photos when it comes to movie art. I’ll tip my hat to those that get it right, like this Cinderella Man poster.

That’s an arresting image and a creative use of photography. But is it as arresting as this?:

To paraphrase The Simpsons (yet again): Cinderella Man promises drama and maybe some boxing. But The Man With 2 Heads has a man with two heads in it. It’s there on the poster.