Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Last Note on The Bob Dylan Playlist

So, as I'm still a little obsessed with Bob Dylan after seeing Todd Hayne's "I'm Not There," I've been playing and thinking about Bob Dylan a ton. This got my thinking about "The Bob Dylan playlist" and it occured to me that I'd really be remiss if I left the song Positively 4th Street entirely off the list.

Positively 4th Street is one of those great angry Dylan songs, kind of like Idiot Wind, where he just throws the words right out there and dispenses with anything in the way of subtlety or metaphor. Here are the opening lines:
You got a lotta nerve 
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that's winning
Pretty strong words, and most likely addressed to the people in the folk scene in Greenwich Village area (centered around West 4th St.) who turned their back on him and called him "Judas" after he made the switch to an electric, less political sound. Who knows though-maybe it's just about a girl?

Anyway, the song also has one of my favorite (and one of the meanest) closing lines ever. Really great stuff to listen to if you're feeling jilted or let down:
I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
Then you'd know what a
drag it is to see you
All the while, the song is dominated by the distinctive electric guitar/organ sound and the snarling Dylan voice that constitutes his best, most distinctive sound.

Not everyone is all that familiar with this tune, though, as it was a single-only release and can only be found on greatest hits collections or on the insanely great box set Biograph (which is where I originally heard it). Unfortunately, my discs of Biograph have long since been ruined by overplay and carelessness with my cds when I was younger, which is why I'm unfortunately not able to post this song for you. However, I can't recommend highly enough that you do what I did and spend the 99 cents to get this song off itunes. Trust me, you won't be disappointed if you do (Ok, fine, maybe you will. But for 99 cents at least you aren't out to much).

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Flight of the Conchords

If you haven't had the opportunity to check out the excellent HBO comedy "Flight Of the Conchords" yet, you're in luck: the first season is now available on dvd! This show, my unexpected comedy surprise of 2007, carries on the great HBO tradition of offbeat, unconventional, and intelligent comedies (Mr. Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lucky Louie) that wouldn't work anywhere else on TV.
Flight of the Conchords, in short, follows Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, "New Zealand's 4th most popular folk-parody duo" as they struggle to get gigs, make rent, and meet women in New York. Mixed throughout the episodes are songs that (by aping a variety of genres and music-video clichés) provide an absurd and unfailingly hilarious commentary to what is happening in the episode.

This clip is from "Girlfriends," my favorite episode of the first season. The video raises several questions, the most important being: is that the real Gérard Depardieu?

I can't recommend this show highly enough. Check it out if you get a chance, or, considering how cheap it is on Amazon, just go ahead and buy the dvd. Musical comedy hasn't been this good since...hmm...Troy McClure's "Dr. Zaius" song on The Simpsons?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Bob Dylan playlist

At the request of my friend Brandon, I've decided to post the track listing for the "Bob Dylan Playlist," something I've been working on for the last couple of months when the urge to avoid actually doing anything productive at all really hits me the strongest. A couple things to note:
  • There's nothing post-1976 on here. I know a lot of people think that his last three albums are among his best. I don't. I think they're ok, but there aren't any tracks on those records that merited inclusion on my personal playlist.
  • There's nothing from Desire or Street Legal on here, which is probably not right. I thought about putting some things from both of those on here, but "Hurricane" is too long for a playlist and there isn't a track on Street Legal that jumped out at me enough to include.
  • All told, there are 16 different albums represented on here. Yet another reminder of how incredible Dylan's output was when he was at his very best.
  • I'm going to include a couple select notes here, but not for every song. There's not much I can tell you about, say, "Like a Rolling Stone" that hasn't been said before.
Without any further ado, here's my playlist. I'm not including mp3's on here, so send me a comment or an email if you want me to send you of these songs to check out.

The Ultimate Dylan Playlist:

1. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (Biograph) This beautiful, upbeat, and simple demo version of the song from his first record is my favorite example of the "lighter side of Dylan's music."
2. Queen Jane Approximately (Highway 61 Revisited) "When your mother sends back all your invitations," is one of the greatest opening lines to a song. I love the way it hints so well at something awful or maybe even tragic that the details aren't even necessary.
3. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bringing It All Back Home). The version on my ipod is taken from the remastered version of these records. And man oh man, the difference is striking. Picking a couple of these remastered editions up is well worth the investment.
4. Abandoned Love (Biograph)
5. Girl From The North Country (With Johnny Cash) (Nashville Skyline) A like this Dylan/Johnny Cash version just the slightest bit more than the original, if only for the way they and go back and forth on the "true love of mine" line at the end.
6. Visions Of Johanna Bob Dylan (Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert) This is probably still my all-time favorite Dylan song. On this live version, every word seems so heartfelt that it's never mattered that I don't really know what the hell's going on in this song.
7. To Ramona (The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 Live 1964 Disc 1) Worth it for the moment near the end of this version where his voice cracks on the "deep in my heart I know there's no help I can bring" line.
8. It Ain't Me, Babe (Another Side of Bob Dylan)
9. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You (Nashville Skyline) This might be the happiest Dylan song I know, and is a perfect album closer for Nashville Skyline.
10. Just Like A Woman (Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert) Good lord, everything from the "Albert Hall" concert is so good that all of the versions of the songs he plays from it, including this one, seem to become for me the definitive versions.
11. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) (Blonde On Blonde)
12. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are A-Changin) One of the greatest Dylan story-songs, this is also a nice remnant from the time when he was still political.
13. I Shall Be Released (Bootleg Series Vol 1-3)
14. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (The Basement Tapes) Another classic song made more famous by another band (in this case, The Byrds)
15. If Not For You (New Morning)
16. Million Dollar Bash (The Basement Tapes)
17. Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine (Blonde On Blonde) This song features the quintessential "Dylan voice." Whenever you hear someone do a joke-y Dylan imitation, odds are they're doing this voice.
18. Bob Dylan - Desolation Row (Highway 61 Revisited)
19. Fourth Time Around (Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert)
20. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (John Wesley Harding) This is the only track from John Wesley Harding on here, and even this is included kind of begrudgingly, because I think that album doesn't really fit well with the rest of his stuff and should really be listened to as a whole.
21. The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) (Self Portrait)
22. Oxford Town (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
23. Who Killed Davey Moore (The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 Live 1964)
24. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) This has to be the greatest break-up song ever. Fuck-off songs are rarely, if ever, so controlled.
25. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Essential Bob Dylan Disc 2)
26. Like a Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited) When I first moved to New York, and I was as broke and alone as I'll ever be, I remember playing this song again and again like it was a rallying cry.
27. She Belongs to Me (Bringing It All Back Home)
28. You're a Big Girl Now (Biograph) My very first "favorite Bob Dylan song," this is another demo version from "Biograph" and features some great heartfelt vocals.
29. Absolutely Sweet Marie (Blonde On Blonde)
30. Buckets Of Rain (Blood On The Tracks) I still love his version, but check out the amazing Neko Case cover if you can find it.
31. The Times They Are A-Changin' ( The Times They Are A-Changin)
32. Tangled Up In Blue (Blood On The Tracks) One of the all-time great album openers. It also features some of his most arresting lyrics.
33. Lay Lady Lay (Nashville Skyline)
34. I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) (Another Side of Bob Dylan) Another great break-up song. This one is when you can't even pretend to be in the recovery phase of the break-up.
35. The Man In Me (New Morning)
36. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
37. All I Really Want To Do (Another Side of Bob Dylan) Much like the playlist opener, this song is another example of Dylan's light touch, a characteristic that people often seem to neglect when talking about him.

So, that's my playlist. Even given how subjective this kind of thing is, I'm curious if anyone feels like a made an egregious omission. Also, is everyone as excited as I am about "I'm Not There," the new Bob Dylan biopic? My excitement about that movie, more than anything else, has really fueled this Dylan phase I'm going through right now.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Alice's Restaurant

First of all, let me just say that I love Thanksgiving. Almost everyone has a four and a half day weekend, the stress of travel and gift buying that comes during Christmas isn't here yet, and it's one of the few days all year that I can catch the Lions game in New York! Although those are the big ones, one of the more subtle reasons that I always get excited about the holiday is knowing that I will soon dig out and listen to Arlo Guthrie's classic Thanksgiving song, Alice's Restaurant Massacre.

To call this 18 minute, 37 second piece a song, however, probably diminishes it's stature too greatly. Alice's Restaurant is a song about thanksgiving, food, Vietnam, garbage, the draft, and the power of sing-alongs. Seriously. The song is built around a very simple chorus and a playful, pleasant guitar line. What seems just kind of bizarre and silly becomes something of an anti-Vietnam War anthem as the builds and gains momentum. You've probably heard this chorus before, even if you weren't aware of who sang it or what is was about:

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
In the shortest possible form, the story goes like this:
  • Arlo and his friend visit their pal Alice at her restaurant on thanksgiving night and decide to haul away her trash for her.
  • After finding out the garbage dump is closed, they throw the garbage off the side of a cliff.
  • They got caught and arrested.
  • More stuff happens, hilarity ensues
  • Later on the song mutates into a story about the Vietnam war (not sure how, exactly, but it does) and he explains his decision to protest and how he'll do so (the chorus is involved)
  • The crowd (oh yeah, it's also recorded live) sings the chorus along with Arlo and everyone is joined together in some sort of anti-War protest movement
Don't ask me how, but the song works, dammit.

My memories of the first time hearing it are still a little fuzzy, as I was in the middle of my "get stoned before work with my coworker Phil" phase in college (which, thankfully, I bowed out of fairly quickly. Getting stoned with Phil, that is, not college.). Still, I thought the melody was so upbeat and pleasant that I went out and bought it the next day. I think I played it once and that was it for the year (it's not really the kind of song you want to play twice in a row). But the next year I went back and listened to it and found that I liked it just the much as the first time. The year after was the same, and so it continues into the present.

Anyway, as I'm hosting thanksgiving at my place this year for the first time ever, I'm hoping to convince my friends to listen to it. Although I'm pretty sure it will be a tough sell (is a 20 minute song ever an easy sell, no matter how good you swear it is?) , perhaps, once the Tryptophan in the turkey takes hold, I'll slip it on before my guests know what hit them.

(P.S. Although I didn't post this gigantic song on here, if you want to listen to it let me know and I'll find a way to get it to you. Legally, of course.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Taste of Genius

By now, everybody knows (and probably loves) both Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. I know I do. As much as I admired their work on The Daily Show, I was initially sceptical of both of their television ventures that followed. I thought there was no way the American Office could live up to the British version, but after some time and viewing a handful of episodes, I've become a bonafide fan. And of course Mr. Carell is untouchable as the arrogant yet lovable Michael Scott. With the Colbert Report, I wasn't sure Stephen would be charismatic enough to drive the show for 30 minutes, let alone four days a week. He commands every second of the show without the help of correspondents and shows you his supreme imrpov chops during the interviews.

That said, I thought I'd share some of my favorite moments where they worked together on screen. It feels kind of weird to watch them work off each other now that they're both popular individually, but it's so incredibly fun.

Here's one of my favorite Even Stevphen's from the Daily Show:

And a classic sketch from the devastatingly shortlived Dana Carvey Show:

Finally an Ambiguously Gay Duo you're sure to enjoy:

Friday, November 9, 2007

Another Way to Like Yo La Tengo

My experience with the band Yo La Tengo has always been kind of curious. I came around to them way late, not really enjoying them until I was practically out of college. To this day if people asked me about them I would describe myself as, at best, a casual fan. And yet, if you look at the top 25 most played songs on my ipod, 3 of the songs are by Yo La Tengo!

I guess, whether you love them or not, there's a certain kind of mellow vibe they create which, if you're a big music fan, can't really be denied. They're also funny as hell, big sports fans, and have some of the greatest album titles ever, including last year's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, however, remains my favorite record of theirs, with the song Autumn Sweater (mp3) typifying, both as a title and a song, the kind of moments in which their sound just cannot be topped. Walking around in autumn, late at night, there isn't a band in a world that provides a better soundtrack.

Probably my three favorite Yo La Tengo songs (the ones that are on the top 25) are Stockholm Syndrome, Black Flowers, and You Can Have it All. Bizarrely, not one of these songs is sung by Ira Kaplan, the lead singer. Although I love their music itself, I've always much preferred the voice of bass player James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley. Nothing against Ira, of course, but his voice is usually just a little too deep and set too far back against the music for me to really enjoy.

McNew, in particular, has a soft, sad voice that belies his appearance and always strikes just the right tone for me. It's impossible to listen to Black Flowers (mp3) and not become entranced by his melancholy vocals and story of the "pretty boys with skinny ties" and their "black flowers and valentines" that distract his love and keeps her away from him. Stockholm Syndrome, another McNew song, remains my favorite Yo La Tengo tune. It serves as a reminder that some of the greatest pop lyrics are the simplest, carried to greatness on the strength of their vocal performances.

Your heart is broken, and the doors are open
As you're hoping to be

There's brighter places to see

Hands need warning, early in the morning

Hardly as I've known a surprise

Georgia's voice has a great way of getting a hold of me as well. There's something about the quiet and assured style in which she sings that has a wonderfully casual air. The song My Little Corner of the World is one great example of this, though my favorite of hers remains You Can Have it All, and the way her voice rises out from the fantastic "ba-bum-ba-bum-bah-bah-bah"s. Once again, the lyrics are practically nothing, just a few simple lines where the meaning is supplied by the upbeat and gentle music and by her soft, confident voice. This is the entirety of the song:

If you want, want my love
Take it baby

If you want, want my heart

Take it baby

You can have it all

If you want, want my time

Take it baby

And if you want my last dime

Take it baby
You can have it all

Take it baby, you can have it all

So, if you haven't given Yo La Tengo much a chance yet, it might be time to try again. Just remember that sometimes, even if you only like 3 songs out of 100, those three songs can make all of the digging around worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Paste Magazine's New Subscription Policy

It appears the Radiohead distribution policy is gaining traction outside of the music realm as well! Head on over to Paste magazine and set your price for a year's subscription (thanks to Megan for the heads-up). I've always found Paste to be a solid, well-written magazine, covering all the bases of pop culture, and it was one I certainly read every month during the old bookstore days. Anyway, kind of a cool idea, and it actually got me to subscribe for a year (a paid more than one dollar, but less that the $19.95 full price), which I certainly would not have done otherwise. As a fan of this distribution style (and as someone that hopes it catches on more and more), I figured I'd pass along the info. Bold move, Paste!

The Do's and Dont's of (Book) Clubbing

Just in case you can never satisfy your Josh-mania, head on over to the "Books & Booze" website to get my take on the "Do's and Don'ts of a successful book club." Most of my advice comes from my experience in the C.R.A.F.T. club in college, a successful book club that crashed and burned on the shores of a multi-week attempt to get through James Joyce's Ulysses.

Still, book clubs, when done correctly, are great fun. I might, however, suggest you stay away from 900 page modernist novels!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's On!

Yesterday morning, the writing stopped. About 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America are demanding money for their work when it goes to DVD and the internet. It’s this “new media” stuff that CEOs claim to be a confusing area when it comes to profit distribution. And until the writers come to an agreement with TV networks and film studios, the funny is gone. Tina Fey is leading chants in front of Rockefeller Center in NY while James L. Brooks walks up and down the sidewalk in front of Fox Studios in LA. Sure, some of these people make decent scratch, but there are thousands of writers who are cast aside while media conglomerates fatten their wallets. Personally, I would be more than a little upset if someone raked in crazy money off my work without giving me even a little share. Media companies have had all the power until now.

The last writers’ strike was in 1988 and lasted five months. Five months! Over that period it cost the entertainment industry half a billion dollars. Half a billion dollars! It’s a blow to those who claim anyone can write and to those whose jobs depend on writers’ ideas and creativity. As much as I hate reruns, this needs to be done. I saw an interview with a picketing John Oliver who said he was writing on Friday for Monday’s Daily Show, in hopes this could be settled over the weekend. We won’t be seeing any new episodes of the Daily Show, SNL, Conan O Brien, and other brilliant shows any time soon. This strike could last days, weeks, even months. And the longer it goes on, the worse television and film will get.

Many speculate that networks will resort to airing more reality shows. More?! These glamorized game shows offer little if any insight into life, lack creativity, and are an insult to all the talented writers out there. They cost no money to make because there’s no thought going into them. There’s a reason quality shows on HBO win awards year after year. Seriously, how many more hosts like Joey Fatone can America take?

When the writers’ requests are finally met, they’ll he happier and more productive, that’s the point of striking. The media companies have taken them for granted far too long. Even Barack Obama agrees. So as we sadly watch reruns of our favorite shows, know all this is being done for a reason. In the end, our laughter will benefit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The NBA Season Begins

NBA Basketball, the most exciting, most intense, most athletic, and most wonderfully flawed sport in all the land is back! Hooray!

There's something about all the troubles and scandals that actually brings me closer to the game; I'm like a child who's a little too protective of their troubled parent. I don't really care about the Tim Donaghy ref scandal (though I really hope it was isolated), and I don't really care about all the will-Kobe-get-traded? drama, either. What I do care about is this:
  • Gilbert Arenas acting insane (and draining some cold-blooded shots against the coaches and teams on his ever-expanding "enemies list"). I don't know that I've ever screamed more while watching a game than I did during their overtime slugfest against the Suns right around Christmastime last year. As Kobe Bryant famously said of Gilbert: "he has no conscience." Plus, he's probably the most entertaining player in the NBA since Charles Barkley retired. Also, make sure to check out his blog if you get a chance.

  • The Phoenix Suns. Listen, even if you can't get around the fact that they don't play D, there's no denying the aesthetic pleasures of watching them play basketball. They are the quickest team, have one of the most crazy-athletic athletes in any sport in Amare Stoudemire, and feature the incredible point guard play of Steve Nash. While we can talk about whether they are built for the playoffs in the spring, they make the 82 game regular season infinitely more interesting.
  • The rejuvenated East. Even if we all agree that the West is still the stronger conference, the East is, if nothing else, a heck of a lot more interesting this year. With Kevin Garnett in Boston, Dwyane Wade hopefully back and healthy soon, and Lebron doing his thing in Cleveland, there are more big stars in the East than there have been in a long time. Factor in the Pistons and Bulls as well, and there is a lot more basketball worthy of our attention on the Eastern Time Zone this time around.
  • Reading Free Darko and Bill Simmons. Although they approach the NBA from often very different perspectives, not to mention writing styles, they both write about the NBA with incredible passion and depth. Every time they talk about basketball it reinforces why I call it my favorite sport.
  • Finally, the Detroit Pistons. Ah, the Pistons, my favorite team in any sport. This summer wasn't quite as bad as the last, where I couldn't even talk about basketball for six months as I recovered from their playoff flame-out against the Miami Heat (this after I actually predicted they would go undefeated in the playoffs. I'm always a little too quick to cross the line from confident to arrogant). Last year my expectations were lower, so I was able to recover from another disappointing season a little faster. Still, this season feels different. How can I not be excited about thier youth movement? Who doesn't look forward to rooting for Jason Maxiell's thunderous dunking this year?Also, don't forget about other young players like Rodney Stuckey and Amir Johnson! Or my favorite player, Chauncey Billups! The Pistons have been old and getting older for so long that I forgot how much fun it was to watch your team undergo a youth movement. For once, I can actually see the future of the Pistons, and it seems pretty bright. Hope always springs eternal in the world of sports...