Part Two Best Summer Film Festival Newport ...
Best Summer Film Festival
Newport International Film Festival
Green Screen. In Newport, RI, of all places, kinda off the beaten path (no direct flights from Cannes or to Telluride), but the June 5 weekend brought excellent weather to a spot quiet and cozy enough for you to actually think about the movies rather than the biz. Among the fare was George Hickenlooper's film version of the Orson Welles script The Big Brass Ring (starring William Hurt, who won the Festival Jury's lone acting prize) and Rory Kennedy's documentary American Hollow. An assortment of panels offered heated (yet air-conditioned) debate on the state of cinema. In between movies you could tour Newport itself?a place of special interest to filmgoers who remember how the credit sequence for Reversal of Fortune featured aerial shots of the area's grand estates. Hourly tours take you there, visiting robber baron haunts as well as the backgrounds to that Jeremy Irons-Glenn Close melodrama. And in the evenings, the festival's parties mixed local enthusiasts and filmmakers at several of Newport's historic summer cottages (mansions to you outsiders)?including a big clambake on closing night.
This film festival is the only one in the country featuring greenery as a respite. It's a breezy place to take in choice indies and grand remnants of American social history?just a couple of hours away by a New York train.
Best New Animal Attraction in the Bronx
Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo
Fordham Rd. (Bronx River Pkwy.), the Bronx
No, Not Fordham's Freshmen. There's more to the Bronx than the Yankees and inner-city despair. The Bronx Zoo's come up with a winner of a exhibit: the Congo Gorilla Forest opened in June to rave reviews from simian lovers all around New York.
What's it all about? The new exhibit's a 6.5-acre habitat that contains the largest breeding group of lowland gorillas in North America. If you want to visit on the cheap, stop by on Wednesdays when admission to the zoo is free. Otherwise the freight's $7.75 for adults, $4 for seniors and children between two and 12. And the new gorilla exhibit's so popular that it costs an extra three bucks to get in.
But it's worth the coin. First you watch a short film about the African low-mountain ecosystem. Then the film ends, the screen rises and?whoa!?gorillas behind glass, staring their human cousins down! (If you have toddlers, by the way, be prepared?this gambit always stimulates a mad rush toward the window. Sometimes the animals are on the wrong side of the glass.) After the screening room business, you walk down a long corridor and check out the gorillas hanging out in their big, happy families.
The exhibit gets crowded, and the wait to get in can be more than an hour. But if you come early, around 10 a.m., or after 4 p.m., you'll usually wait no longer than 15 minutes.
Best DIY Record Label
DIY Still Rules. In an era when even "independent" labels are attached to the tentacles of some multinational corporation somewhere along the way, it is ultra-refreshing to see the local Vital Music Records still cranking out releases after a decade now. Formed in 1989 by Tom Cassar, bass player of the Sea Monkeys, the label got its first boost with the awesome collection of 7-inch 45s they released to combat the crap Sub Pop was pushing from Seattle at the time. Vital released singles from locals like Karen Black, the Lunachicks, Ween, Alice Donut, Iron Prostate (pre-Furious George Tabb), Mr. T. Experience and many more. The records sold like crazy, and this gave Tom and company the money they needed to continue to do bigger and better things.
One of these was a version of Tommy condensed to seven minutes?the whole rock opera in seven minutes, a blazing medley of all the songs performed by more than 12 bands in less time than it takes to listen to "Baba O'Riley." And things didn't slow down after that. Vital went on to release more than 50 records, and they now distribute independent releases from all over the world. With 5000-plus releases in their catalog (which can be yours for free by calling 777-5021 or writing to P.O. Box 210, NYC 10276-0210) there is quite literally something for everyone there.
For remaining truly independent and not sucking the ass of any corporations, no way no how, we salute this Do It Yourself record label. We also enjoy the monthly rock shows at Vital's offices, with performances by acts they either record or distribute. Call them for info on that, too. Or just call them to tell them they rule.
Best Gallery Exhibitions
Christian Schumann at Postmasters
Inka Essenhigh at Jeffrey Deitch
Alex Ross at Mary Boone
Bright Lights. All exhibitions of newly rejuvenated, tack-smart, art world-reforming painting, the work of these three accomplished young artists puts the final lie to the inane, retrograde desire of certain conceptual and/or multiculti-minded folks to consign painting to the trashbin of history (imagine!). Willing to take previously politicized postmodernism at face value, this troika of artists spearheads what is today a fearless new movement in painting. Ready for anything, Schumann, Essenhigh and Ross pump style and painterliness for all they're worth, eschewing grand narratives and mincing ironies in the same breath, while shamelessly getting at projects that engage meaning. Each in his or her inimitable way?Schumann via wacky victims and perps, Essenhigh through disporting, acid-colored mugwumps and Ross through the endless suggestion served up by his green biomorphic figures?at once take on figuration and abstraction, pop culture and the canon, the painterly concerns of Duccio and the conceptual strategies of Duchamp. Together with other painters like Karen Davie, Lisa Yuskavage, John Currin, Lisa Ruyter and Michael Bevilacqua, Schumann, Essenhigh and Ross represent at least the beginning of a new beginning (if not a dawning in their own right). In a word, the work of these three painters deserves the art world's ultimate compliment: Their efforts might easily turn out to be the most "radical" development of the decade.
Best Thing to Happen to the Rock Scene
The Closing of Coney Island High
The Music Died, Man. Face it, the place was a dungeon?the smokiest, most claustrophobic freak show in the city. And though the Coney was one of the few venues in the city to maintain a genuinely lively schedule, the truth is they booked way too many power-violence bores and over-the-hill metal acts. Plus, a very convincing rumor has it, they oversold every show by cheating on ticket sales, adding their second-floor capacity to the downstairs room so that twice as many tattooed seven-footers with spikes on their belts and sweat stains the size of welcome mats could crowd and shove their way across the floor?a very plausible scenario, given the venue's relative emptiness on slow nights and Calcutta-like stifling crowdedness on the "big" nights. Good riddance. Maybe it'll have the welcome effect of unloading some of the local punx back to Long Island.
Best Hiphop-Nation Reality Check
Hot-97 Summer Jam '99
The Million Fan March. DMX, Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Nas with Puffy?who makes all that nursery-rhyming, painfully obvious beat-sampling, tacky-ass hiphop go platinum? Who doesn't seem to notice hockey-arena sound so echoey and distorted that if it weren't for the video screens, it'd be impossible to tell who was onstage? Who loves faux-dangerous, cornpone spectacle more intensely than anyone since the Kiss Army? The Hot-97 faithful, that's who. For anyone wondering if that demographic was comprised mostly of the usual suspects?i.e., dopey, clean-cut white kids who wish they were bad,?the local hip-pop radio station's annual Summer Jam set things straight. Held at the Continental Airlines Arena at the end of June, Summer Jam '99 proved that pasty-faced suburbanites have no monopoly on dopiness?or wannabeing, for that matter.
You can't get a sense of how youth culture has changed in the last generation without witnessing 20,000 black kids?most of whom arrive in new Nissans, Hondas and Volkswagens presumably provided as 17th-birthday presents by Civil-Rights-and-Feminism-era parents?respond to repeated queries of, "Where my niggas at?" and "Where my bitches at?" with deafening howls of delight. The music industry is finally judging these kids by the content of their character?and finding it as shallow and pliable as that of their overfed white counterparts.
It would have looked like an integration victory with black-community taste the only casualty, if not for the New Jersey state troopers' contribution to Summer Jam '99. During DMX's set, a bunch of knuckleheads without tickets rushed the gate. It was the kind of thing that happens quite often at the Meadowlands, because the complex was built on a landfill in the middle of nowhere. Fans who show up ticketless are fenced in the parking lot, and if they can't find a scalper end up bored and anxious. At the Garden or Nassau such hard-luck kids stomp off and get some fast food?at the Meadowlands they all fought through traffic and paid to park, so many stew until they reach critical mass together and storm the barricades. We've seen this happen at Springsteen concerts at the Meadowlands, it happened when AC/DC came and at more than a couple of Grateful Dead shows. Only at Summer Jam '99, though, did hundreds of cops, some in full riot gear, show up at the Arena to "restore order." Rows of shields and visored helmets really lend the whole, familiar arena-rock ritual a different sorta flavor.
Best Bad Movie Hype
AMC John Ford Marathon
The Researchers. Okay, the worst movie hype of the year was for The Blair Witch Project, but you knew that already. It was surprising to watch American Movie Classics' recent John Ford movie marathon?the tv event of the year?and suffer through the cable station's annoying festival commercials. The most egregious was a promo for The Searchers. Between clips of that 1956 Western ("That'll be the day!") ran several paeans from such notables as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg and then, this declaration: "All modern American cinema comes from The Searchers"?erroneously credited to Ernest Hemingway.
For all the good work that AMC did presenting rare Ford films to a new public (and forwarding the cause of film preservation with gorgeous prints of The Long Gray Line, The Prisoner of Shark Island and How Green Was My Valley), this mixed-up film appreciation was vexing. Since Hemingway checked out in 1961, the statement about American cinema wouldn't cover much ground. But for the record: Hemingway actually paid tribute to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as the source of all succeeding American literature. Sure, it's reasonable to want movies to have the intellectual and artistic clout of literature, but let's get the terms right. AMC's ads practiced the kind of hilariously bad scholarship you usually expect from Premiere. Besides, pinning modern movies on The Searchers only means Ford has a lot of crap to answer for.
Best Local Comedian(s)
Them Keener Boys
Mom Likes Them Both Just Fine. "When I hear folks a-clapping, And my toesies start a-tapping," sings Dave Keener, "That's my kind of show!" He goes on like this for a while. Tom, Dave's brother, finds this to be baffling. He begins to talk over the music and ask if Dave is really into that kind of stuff. Dave certainly is: "Now, Tom, I've told you what kind of show I like. But you didn't tell me what kind of show you like."
"That's easy, Dave, because what I really like is a kick-ass downtown New York City East Village performance art kind of show."
"Never saw one," replies innocent Dave. "What's it like?"
"Listen and learn," sneers Tom, as he proceeds to list all that is not Them Keener Boys, concluding: "When nobody can sing or act or write worth a damn/And a madwoman whose rectum is obstructed by a yam/Tells all the white boys where they can go/Brother, that's my kind of show!"
That's from Them Keener Boys' funniest bit?"That's My Kind of Show," the opening track of their self-titled CD?and it sums up what makes Them so important. Like the great ones before, Tom and Dave blossom in the counterculture they so aggressively wish to destroy. The Smothers Brothers' biggest gag was the ability to outsing and outplay most of their direly serious contemporaries. It's certainly no stretch to imagine that Them Keener Boys are more talented and entertaining than any musical act below 14th St.
This isn't to say that there's anything professional about Them Keener Boys. The brothers' amateurish spirit will keep them exiled in downtown for a few more years. It's for the best. That Keener awkwardness provides a lot of magic. Sure, it's painful always to see them stumble through their first few songs. They may rush through pitching the perfume made from their pheromones ("Parfum/Keenerboy No. 5"), but it leads to a flawless performance of lite whiteboy rap that's marvelously catchy. Saturday Night Live has been trying to write a decent similar parody since '88. Them Keeners probably got it by the third try. It's the best dinky white art-rap from a city that's attempted a lot of dinky white art-rap.
Their record is crammed full of off hand, wonderful sounds and songs. Lots of bad faux lounge acts probably wrote a bad lounge act tribute to the martini, but only Them Keener Boys write one that begins with a tribute to the liver of Prometheus. "Them Keener Boys Were Illin'" is a dance parody that, of course, is more danceable than anything on Moby's Play. No other whiteboy downtown NYC act is so quick to hate their whiteboy downtown privilege. "The Story Of My People," for example, properly savages stupid ethnic self-importance. Fratboys everywhere are rushing to wrap themselves in their great-grandfathers' persecuted culture. But only these very white brothers could get away with a proud tale of their forefathers' discovering the Dept. of Social Services.
You'll find the CD at their live shows, which you'll want to attend anyway. Not every one of their hits made the album, including their lite-funk ode about how they'll only make love to a woman who knows how to bake in the morning. They usually play for free, too, which means they'll continue to have plenty of real-life experiences to tap for their animated epic The Available Temping Man, which you'll find at www.keenerboy.com.
Naturally, Them Keener Boys aren't for everybody. You may not like genuinely funny guys. You may be a Dave Keener in reverse, preferring empty snide remarks to clever insight. As Dave would say, "Gee, Tom, I don't know if I'd like that kind of show." And Tom blithely responds, "That's because you're a racist, David."
Best Candidate For The Emperor's New Clothes Award In Choreography
Hail, Tripesichore! Choreographer John Jasperse has acquired quite a European following for his "inventive" productions. A European following.
His most recent piece, Madison, as I Imagine It, at the Dance Theater Workshop, is a doozy. What happens in this masterpiece? Get this: A couple of women spin pails on the floor. Then Jasperse and a girl enter with a bucket of pennies. Then she puts some of them in his ear and he dumps them in the bucket. Then Jasperse wraps aluminum foil around her waist, grows bored, takes it off and hangs it on the stage's scrim. Then the dancers recline on the floor and entwine their legs in that way toddlers do when you stick them together into the same crib. Also there's some postmodern jumping-bean-style excitement, for your pleasure.
Meanwhile, we persist under the impression that Merce Cunningham, at the age of 80, is producing the real stuff: material that looks more avant-garde than ever compared to this overhyped tripe.
Best Forward-Looking New York Gallery
177 N. 9th St. (betw. Bedford & Driggs Aves.) Brooklyn, 718-599-2144
Art Space Oddity. Long the flag-bearer of the up-and-coming Brooklyn scene, this recently expanded art space has already "graduated" a generation of artists to many of Manhattan's top-flight galleries, among them Roxy Paine, Bruce Pearson and Fred Tomaselli. Smart collectors today flock to gallery director Joe Amrhein's space, anxious to catch new art trends in the making, participate intimately in New York's most significant artists' scene and save tens of thousands of green ones in the process. Amrhein's soft-spoken, direct, knowledgeable style is in great part responsible for the success of his gallery and for the growth of other art spaces in Williamsburg. What began as an experiment in representativeness and inclusion with Pierogi's "Flat Files" (a format for exhibiting inexpensive, small-scale art pieces to curious collectors) has now become a means for traveling the work of hundreds of artists to galleries and museums across the U.S. and Europe. Tagged by The New York Times Magazine as a "neo-dealer" three years ago, Amrhein has advanced beyond this silly neologism to establish a style reminiscent of a figure now represented in history books: gentleman Leo Castelli. An experimental art space as well as a gallery, Pierogi 2000 cooks with new finds, shuttling off the prissy, attitudinal guff one has come to expect from gallery-going.
Best Value for Actors and Playwrights to Cultivate
Leave Your Agent. Stop going on auditions. Remember that one writer in school who was a real hotshot? Those other actors you went to school with that you had a blast just blasting through a text with? Get them together and develop a Web tv show. Because here's the deal: The money guys have built this amazing infrastructure on the Internet. And they're hurting for content. There is no precedent; right now, for instance, the Digital Entertainment Network is developing seven-minute downloadable shows. And they're desperately looking for people who can make stuff.
Actors never get stuff they have any equity in?an equal stake in the fortunes of the project they're involved in. Here's your chance to change that. Anything goes out there. Fucking grab that shit and rock the house.
Best Live Music Series
The Garage Rock Festacular!
Root '66. Sure, the miasmic essence of yesteryear wafts heavy at Cavestomp! With all of the moptops, Beatle boots, horizontal stripes and paisleys you run into at these events, it's easy to believe you've wandered into a scene out of Wild in the Streets.
Still, it's no shock to see 90s alt-garage heroes like Jon Spencer kneeling at the altar of the Seeds' Sky Saxon. After all, what scion of garage-punk hipdom is going to miss the chance to see Nuggets come to life before his very eyes? No?the real surprise is just how hard the geezers give back. Not the geezers onstage either?it's the audience we're talking about. On the nights we attended Cavestomp! we witnessed more ass-shaking?more all-out bone-scraping party joy?than at any other show in recent memory. Oldsters were busting out, breaking their 12-step covenants. Chicks were running around topless. Ecstatic ex-convicts who hadn't seen a pop music show since Johnny Cash played Folsom Prison slouched alongside the stage to heckle, drink and eventually pass out. Not to mention that twentysomethings smart enough to avert their sneaker-bound gazes and haul their butts up off of the Knitting Factory floor had themselves some good, unself-conscious fun.
As is usually the case, rumors of a Sonics reunion circulated only to be topped by actual confirmation that the Monks (that's M-o-n-k-s, not M-o-n-k-e-e-s) would reform after 32 years and play at Cavestomp! in November. Any series that dusts off the relics and generates for them the acclaim they deserve from an appreciative audience is cool. But credit Cavestomp! with taking it all a step further and providing something that downtown music sorely lacks these days: a scene.
Best of Best-of CDs
The Wedding Present
The Honeymoon's Not Over. The British band The Wedding Present's great 1990 album Bizarro has been hard to find recently, but the obscure new label Manifesto has gathered several of its best tracks for Singles 1989-1991, a two-CD Wedding Present echo. David Gedge sings with gruff felicity but he also heads a band that is consistently, remarkably powerful and melodic. And he writes good stuff: "You grew up quicker than me/I kept so many old things/And never quite stopped hoping/I think I know what this means/It means I ought to grow up/It means you want to throw up."
On the band's few U.S. gigs (once at CBGB) Gedge & Co. displayed the undying virtues of rhythm-and-speed, verse-and-chorus welded to feeling. This collection is a testament to a band that concentrates on the intricacies of male heartache. Gedge's self-revealing songs are buoyed by a crowd-thrilling fury (like Neil Young's rowdier yet more romantic younger brother). The band articulates what eager and wounded lovers won't admit, always evoking the simplicity of the basic rock 'n' roll combo. This retrospective also features tracks from Tommy, George Best and Watusi. For such emotional devotion as Gedge's, only a small, dedicated label like Manifesto would do. To a defensive, forgetful world, The Wedding Present is a gift.
Best Music-Industry Jeremiah
Fear of a Digi Planet. It was with great pleasure that we watched this maverick-turned-elder return to his rebellious roots and dismiss the music industry's party line regarding MP3s. The major labels had been hiding behind a vaguely leftish shield?that free flow of music-as-information would cost American jobs and artists profits?but Chuck called bullshit on that. Artists already make damn near no profits on the sale of their music, he pointed out, and jobs are always lost when technological innovations lower the costs of doing business?in boardrooms that's called progress. With assistance from the ever-compliant music media (a gang of freeloading sycophants who behave as if they'd suffocate if their flow of promotional CDs were threatened), the labels were succeeding at their systematic demonization of MP3 until Chuck signed with Atomic Pop (dot-com) and announced that his group, Public Enemy, was now an online presence first. If you're Web savvy, you can download the new Public Enemy album, There's a Poison Goin' On, for free. But plenty of people are paying for it, just like Chuck said they would. He's right and they're wrong. Artists can do fine selling their own music direct to the public, and should view labels as nothing but obsolete middlemen?at least until companies offer artists something they haven't been offered before.
Best Overrated Gallery Exhibitions
Rirkrit Tiravanija and Elizabeth Peyton
Gavin Brown's Enterprise Corp.
436 W. 15th St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.)
Dull Wind Blows Hard. Now, we all know that the art world perennially has these to spare. Still, this year's results turn out two particularly egregious examples of poser puff, each one worthy of The Blowhard, the yearly (since right now) NYPress prize dished out in mock-celebration of bad, conceited art and inflated reputations. This year it's a dead heat. Rirkrit Tiravanija's recent replica of his East Village apartment built inside Gavin Brown's gallery ties Elizabeth Peyton's display of ugly little portraits of the fey-faced, purportedly cool and nearly famous. Though Peyton gives as good as she gets in this battle for the dull, overexploited and obvious?turning starfucking doodles of insignificant twits like Liam Gallagher and Leonardo DiCaprio very much to her advantage?Tiravanija edges out the competition by clearly demonstrating the power of incessantly repeating a shallow idea to death (We happen to have had the misfortune of attending an opening of an identical work by Tiravanija in Barcelona; his project at the Venice Biennale, a potted tree, was also a similarly flat-lined one-liner). Home since mid-May to dopey graduate students, Stussy-wearing fashion interns and middle-aged art writers uncritically obsessed with things young, Tiravanija's "apartment"?open 24 hours a day to anyone who wants to, you know, "veg out"?hammers home its signature cross of pseudo-sociology and doofus Gen-X conceptualism with deadening insistence. Tiravanija's constructions are, pure and simple, process art for the lifestyle-conscious 90s. Declaratively silent on every possible formal or cultural issue, this mess of plywood and electrical wire depends solely on the hot air provided by its silly occupants for significance. 1999, We Have a Winner!
Best Music Magazine to Avoid
How Do You Sleep? It was well-known before Blaze hit the streets last summer that the magazine would sell a lot of ad space. A product of profitable, Quincy-Jones-founded Vibe Ventures (now Vibe/Spin Ventures), the new hiphop magazine was to compete with The Source, which after about a decade in circulation suddenly became as thick as a small city's phone book and started outselling Rolling Stone off the newsstands. How many publishing conglomerates both want to do a rap magazine and know something about the market? With its sure-thing business plan, the publishers could have done practically anything in the space between their scores of jiggy-wear and urban-market-movie ads. Blaze could have explored new design possibilities and taken editorial risks. They could have challenged readers with a hiphop magazine as unpredictable and deep as the culture's best music.
Part of Blaze's prelaunch ad campaign?an MTA-sign parody featuring iconic symbols for each of the four elements of hiphop under the word "Please"?was promising. How long ago that seems now, one year later, when Blaze has established itself as the most conservative and shallow national music magazine of all time. There is no celebrity interview too formulaic, no surface appearance too obvious to play off as impenetrable, no Source design idea too distinguished to bite, no cliche?be it written, photographed or illustrated?too tired for the opportunists running Blaze. If risks and innovations are a lot to ask, how about one feature that doesn't start with a description of the writer meeting the artist in some atmospheric setting and end with a dumb summary sentence like, "Away from industry frenetics, time has paved Erick and Parrish a more stable path," or "Strapped with a plan for the West, Mack is ready to bring in a blazing new dawn," or "For Rahzel, making music with his mouth is just natural, taking things back to its purest essence?the beat," or "By digging deep inside herself again and again, Solé is on her way to becoming a great performer and an even better woman" (all from the Sept. '99 issue).
Special mention must be made of Blaze's "edgy" column, "The Furious 5," which is nothing but a page of snappy "Top 5" lists (bet you've never seen those in a pop glossy before). The latest issue's edition uses this limp forum to address one of Blaze's most glaringly apparent weaknesses?its absurdly cozy relationships with the labels whose artists the magazine supposedly covers. "Top 5 Reasons Blaze is Not Def Jam Magazine" include "We've sworn off payola (hint-hint, wink-wink, nudge-nudge)" and "We're the only magazine with the nerve to ask Russell [label boss Simmons] if he was gay." Haw fuckin' haw. We can't wait until October, when perhaps "Furious 5" will explain why Blaze's September Mobb Deep feature asserted that the five-month delay in the release of the group's hotly anticipated (and, by May, heavily bootlegged) fourth album stemmed from "Loud Records' decision?to switch distributors from BMG to Sony," when everybody in the goddamn industry knows that's not what happened.
Best Manhattan Band From Brooklyn
Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six
Chinese Rock. We first saw Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six one summer night last year at Acme Underground when they opened for the Swinging Neckbreakers. It was perfect: hot and humid, and we danced and pounded beers like we were nuts. The Dynasty Six?there are only four of them, actually?ripped through song after song of 60s-styled, Seeds-influenced garage rock like it was the last rock 'n' roll show ever. Jonny, Tommy and Wayne usually wear matching suits?or at least black pants with buttondowns and ties, depending on temperature. The drummer...well, he wears whatever he wants, and it's usually the standard wifebeater. Because he's the drummer.
What Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six do is kick it, and hard. They tend to start their sets with a Davey Allan & the Arrows song and get the crowd stomping with goofy choruses like, "It's simple, but it's true?the one I love is you!" as they thrash around, performing Townshend windmills, rock-star jumps, kicks and lots of other gymnastic kind of stuff. Not convinced? Look out for them: they tend to play Manitoba's and Baby Jupiter's quite a bit. But make sure you stick around for the final song, "It's All About Me"?someone will surely get serenaded.
Best Crutch for the Touring Rock Life
Chuck the Chippie, Pass the Dutchie. You're gonna need something out there; you're living on a bus, nothing is constant except that you play a show every day, and the remaining 22 hours are spent sitting on the bus watching movies, or?if you're unlucky?doing interviews. Rock journalists are basically the kids who were too lazy to get a summer job in high school so they could buy a drum set; thus, they know absolutely nothing about the actual work involved in making music, or the punishing routine that a musician has to deal with if they want to actually pay the rent playing music. That's a pretty annoying guy to have to talk to every day.
After a short while on the road one learns to vanish when the tour manager comes around trolling for somebody to do the phoner with the Cleveland Plain Dealer?but the question remains: What the fuck do you do with all that time? Unfortunately, there're only so many times one can watch Tommy Boy in the back lounge. The restless musician must turn to one of two things: girls or substances.
Girls are bad news. For several reasons. For one thing, if you're somebody nobody wants to fuck and then suddenly you're in a band and everybody wants to fuck you, it occurs to you that them wanting to fuck you has absolutely nothing to do with you. Kind of a rough realization, particularly when you realize you can sympathize with gorgeous models who whine about nobody wanting to get to know the real them. Scary. Also, all bands that dog around end up getting heavily competitive with one another?if you're living on a bus with a bunch of fellas for months at a time, you're going to have irrational dislikes of them anyway; you really don't need cock-swinging antler-butting alpha male shit to ice that particular cake. (Note: We've seen a number of bands that have given up the drugs entirely and, naturally, turned to women as a substitute crutch; those bands are the scariest, most aggressive, point-scoring-est ruthless environments you ever saw.)
And perhaps the scariest reason?after a while you cease to give a fuck about women. Lord knows playing the same songs day after day puts you in serious danger of ceasing to give a fuck about music; ceasing to give a fuck about sex additionally is some scary psychological terrain.
But wait, the sensitive reader asks, what about creative endeavors? Can't that sustain you on the road? Well, perhaps?but if your creative focus happens to be playing music, that's pretty fucking difficult to get into over the roar of a bus engine. If you're lucky, maybe you've got a creative outlet that can be indulged despite the bus noise?like, say, oh we don't know, maybe a newspaper column or something. Or videogames.
But basically your best bet is the drugs. For one thing, they can make the movies in the back lounge seem better than they are. For another thing, it's an activity you can share with your bandmates; if everybody's jonesing, you can all go ferret out the drugs as a group activity; if somebody's out of drugs, bandmates will generally share. We recommend pot over narcotics and narcotics over liquor. Stay away from the cocaine: Waking up with a hangover on the bus and throwing up in the Days Inn parking lot still beats staying up all night sweating out that ugly fucking drug, wide awake, staring out the window as the sun comes up over the aforementioned motel. Narcotics are great fun, but you have to make sure you're hiring roadies on the lower end of the pay scale?a guitar tech who makes two thousand bucks a week gets that wage not because he can tune guitars any better than the cheaper guys, it just means he can find pretty durn good powder in, like, Duluth, or Tulsa. Which means that it's 10 times more available, 10 times less special, and you've got a li'l habit going on. As for the weed?thanks to the miracle of modern hydroponics, the quality is most excellent on a nationwide basis?although there's always that three-day stretch from like Baton Rouge, then a day off by a strip mall in South Carolina, then Myrtle Beach, where the only weed you can get is like hay spraypainted green and suddenly the bass player is in a foul mood and everyone is at one another's throats over an argument about whether to eat at Waffle House or Cracker Barrel. But that's relatively rare. Happy touring!
Best Hitchcock Centennial Celebrations
Hitchcock's Notebooks, by Dan Auiler
Give 'Em Enough Rope. Three of the many stood out: The Museum of Modern Art's now-closed gallery exhibition of Hitchcock memorabilia?interoffice memos, personal letters (including Grace Kelly's schoolgirl script turning down the lead in Marnie), film clips and a prop stuffed bird?was like an unforgettable evening in Hitch's home.
Next, Dan Auiler's compilation Hitchcock's Notebooks (Spike Books/Avon) was like a souvenir of what MOMA offered plus more: script reprints, storyboards and behind-the-story details, intrigues and insights. The best way to recapture a sense of the maestro's importance is on a spectacular, little-known website, DVDExpress.com. The feature "100 Years of Hitch" lights up the Net. Starting with an ambitious, impressive assessment of what Hitchcock meant to world cinema, Gregory Solman, a thoughtful and original critic, compiled a list of Hitchcock-inspired features available in the newest home-viewing format. But this site shines because the list extends over many genres and to well-known and obscure titles (from The Shanghai Gesture to Confidentially Yours). Solman argues for Hitchcock's breadth as well as his artistry. In a surprising way, this list also resembles a retrospective of the most interesting films made this century. Solman's critical acumen results in clever, knowledgeable synopses that read like the most exciting course syllabus imaginable. Smart cinema profs should have started their cribbing here.
Best Movie Theater Innovation
DIY "Butter" Pumps
Golden Showers. If you're going to eat it, you might as well eat a lot of it, and no matter how much you beg, the concessionaires at movie theaters never put enough of that "butter" (we know a theater that used something called "Golden-Spra") on your popcorn. The rolled eyes and audible sighs that are the response to "Would you put some of that yellow stuff halfway in?" have almost made us quit asking.
The United Artists Union Square Theaters have finally caught on. They now offer do-it-yourself "butter" pumps, right by the napkins and condiment island, with an upstairs outpost, too. We can spray our corn to our heart's content, even running out to reload, should we find that necessary.
Best Place to Play Sit-Down Ms. Pac-Man
Welcome to the Johnsons'
123 Rivington St. (betw. Essex & Norfolk Sts.)
Ghosts in the Machine. Locals and hipsters patronize this Lower East Side bar for the great happy hour specials, the three-dollar Guinness pints and the appealingly slack, relaxed down-home vibe.
All that stuff's fine with us. But what keeps us hanging out here until the wee hours is that goddamn Ms. Pac-Man. Fuck Pokemon. Atari's where it's at?and no other arcade games stand the test of time like the Pac-Man games do. So you'll find us at the Johnsons' boozed up and huddled over the table, shivering with adrenaline and swearing under our breath as that silly round-ass creature whips its way around the maze. Don't wait on us, though. We're good at this, and we'll leave the game table?our eyes glazed, our joystick hand cramped?and stagger to the bar for a restorative shot and beer when we're good and ready.
Why doesn't the Lakeside, which provides a sit-down Pac-Man, win this honor? Good question. Listen carefully and we'll tell you. Play doubles on that machine and two Pac-Men appear at once, which makes it somewhat confusing when you're drunk or stoned. So stick with the Johnsons'.
Best Place to Take Your Sugar Daddy
266 Elizabeth St. (betw. Houston & Prince Sts.)
Baby's Got a Brand New Bag. When Sugar Daddy said he wanted to treat us to "a night on the town," we knew precisely where to go. Dinner and a show is nice, but diamonds?or in this case handbags?are a girl's best friend. After all, that black, square, PVC shoulder bag we were hauling around?purchased on sale at the Gap way back when a cultivated irony was something we still aspired to?wasn't working anymore. Irony's passe. And besides, we're grown-up.
Blue Bag had just what we were after?a nice, handmade Italian piece by Alchimia. It's big enough to be practical, small enough to be feminine and can be worn with either a black or a brown ensemble (we're looking out for Sugar Daddy, too). Prices run between $60 and $400; there's merchandise from France, Italy, New York and even Guatemala (the stuff to buy when you're looking to give Sugar Daddy the impression you're politically conscious). We're also determined to score the beaded handbag and wallet set with the cat-eye design, by Mystic. That combo goes for $475.
Forget Rialto and Sweet & Vicious?you want to have some fun in this neighborhood, stop by Blue Bag, and make sure you check out the store's nylon totes and cute French owner, in case Sugar Daddy jets.
Best Expression of Bafflement
"Who the fuck is Ween?"
The Last Word in Confusion. Back in the proverbial day, a friend was 17 and an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart in Pensacola, FL. He was a dedicated young proto-grunger, and the upper echelons soon noticed his extensive collection of t-shirts bearing names of bands that no taxpaying adult could possibly have the brain space for. Of course, they interpreted this as expertise, and put the poor guy in charge of the music department, where he had to actually pay attention to how many people bought Michael Bolton records, and then call whomever one calls up to get more Michael Bolton records and say, "I'd like a shitload more of them Michael Bolton records, please." He tells us the thing that really broke his spirit was when he ordered up a single Hüsker Dü CD and set it up in the racks with a nice little "Hüsker Dü" place card and everything, and month in and month out Flip Your Wig just sat there, the loneliest compact disc in the whole entire world.
Being an assistant manager meant he supervised a single employee, an older black gentleman who apparently used to depress our friend by dreaming aloud of one day being transferred to the lawn furniture department. So one day this big box of new releases comes in, and the older black gentleman slices the packing tape off with a boxcutter, and picks up the CD that happened to be on top of the stack. That CD happened to be Ween's Chocolate and Cheese. And the older black gentleman exclaimed, emphatically, and with great wonderment in his voice: "Who the fuck is Ween?"
We found this hilarious at the time, and it stuck in our head. It rattled around in there so much that after a while we couldn't help but let it out. One evening our girlfriend was in one of those girl moods that hang so heavy in the air it becomes difficult to breathe. We were sitting in a cab?heading to some party where she was going to be in a foul mood but act all syrupy nice to people and vent her foul moodiness to us whenever nobody was looking?and when we were stopped at a light, we just randomly broke the silence. "Who the fuck is Ween?" It sure didn't help matters, but man did it feel good to say.
And in the ensuing months the phrase has proved peculiarly useful. Perusing a menu entirely in Portuguese: "Who the fuck is Ween?" Being unable to locate one's location on a map, being stymied by the assembly instructions for a mechanical something or other, or a train schedule, or the location of the cereal aisle in a superm
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