myaimistrue.jpg“Allison” – Elvis Costello
From My Aim is True

I’ve never really got Elvis Costello. Most of his songs don’t really translate well into my brain waves. I don’t really have anything against him, I don’t dislike his songs, but I don’t find a whole lot in them to really like either. Which is weird to me, because I rather dig his nerdy schtick and I know folks who totally dig him, and those folks are folks I can generally groove with. I do, however, dig his wife, Diana Krall.

This is one of the few songs I really, truly dig. It’s got that romantic groove going and the close out line “my aim is true” that cuts deep.

smile.jpg“What I Say” – Lyle Lovett
From Smile

Now Lyle Lovett is an artist I can fully and wholly dig. He’s a darn fine musician, a wonderful songwriter, and seemingly an all around good guy – or at least a wry, funny one.

This is from an album full of songs he has performed for various movies. Lyle is quite a movie man, having performed songs for all kinds of film, and even performed in a number of Robert Altman flicks. None of the songs here are original, it is a bunch of covers, generally really slow covers – which means its an album I’m not all that fond of – with a few exceptions, notably this Ray Charles cover.

No doubt this is a great song, and Lyle gives it his best go, but it is a song I’ve long since grown tired of; which is no fault of its own. It’s just one of those songs I’ve heard so many times I can’t listen to it anymore.

The Lyle version is a fine rendition, but nobody beats Ray Charles, especially on the orgasmic moans toward the end. Lyle just can’t get into the sex of it.

b00005mlu001_aa_scmzzzzzzz_.jpg“You Got the Silver” – The Rolling Stones
From Let it Bleed

My favorite incarnation of the Stones is the country honk version. I’m an old school country man anyway, and the way the Stones can cut country music with a raunchy rock n roll edge slays me.

This is a slow paced, fast song. It’s a simple love songs sang plain by Keith Richards. The organ solo in the middle of this two minute ditty nails everything a good song should. When it’s followed up a jaunty, rollickin’ piano based rave it’s pure joy.

benfolds.jpg“Brick” – Ben Folds Five
From Whatever and Amen

A song about abortion that never mentions it. It weighs like of ton blocks named in the title. If you let it, it will make you see the misery and loneliness of life.

In but a few verses Ben Folds tells a story so completely, and with such heartbreak it’s hard to believe it is just a pop song. It is a song I both love and hate. I love it for its perfect ness, for it’s ability to transcend pop and convey real, raw emotions. I hate it for the same reasons, it’s just not something easily listened to, for it is too real. How this became something of a hit is beyond me.

biograph.jpg“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – Bob Dylan
From Biograph

It’s hard to choose a favorite Dylan. There is the political spokesman, the prophet and preacher, there is the storyteller and poet, and then there is the lover, whose words penetrate the heart and soul – ok, yeah, I gotta go for the lover. His words are so heart achingly beautiful, it’s hard not to fall in love all over again.

This is a perfect love song. The melody is simple and sweet the lyrics are the whisper of a lover who promises nothing more than a wonderful tonight, but he doesn’t have to promise more. Tonight’s enough.

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Bootleg Country: Nirvana – 10/31/91

nirvana.jpgBack about 12 years or so I was a counselor at a summer camp. It was a great couple of weeks spent playing games in the sunshine, hanging out with old friends, and mentoring young people. At the time I thought there would be nothing better than being a teacher, a molder of young minds.

The decade since either brought me to my senses, or slipped right by me.

During one of the weeks at camp, I had to go to a concert that I had no interest in. While there I bumped into a girl I became acquainted with a few months back. We began chatting it up and digging on each other.

I noticed some scratches on her arm and listened, fascinated, as she told me how she had etched “Kurt Forever” into her skin with a knife. This was not long after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and like a million other young people who are perpetually affected by such things; she took this selfish act to heart.

This was long before I understood terms like “scarring” or that thousands of young people do such things to themselves every day. I didn’t understand the pain, or the crying out such things often represent. I simply thought it was a pretty cool thing to do, if rather weird. While I was saddened, angered by Cobain’s act, the thought of carving up my own skin because of it was something of incompressibility.

Around the same time I heard “Come As You Are” on the radio which was followed by some smart-alecked DJ made sarcastic comments about Cobain lying when he sang, “And I swear that I don’t have a gun.”

My friend who happened to be a girl who later became something of a girlfriend, became very upset at this comment. She couldn’t understand how someone could joke about the death of an artist, and certainly not the suicide of a genius.

These days when I think about Nirvana, I think about those two girls and their incredibly strong reactions towards the band, its singer, and the songs they produced. In my full-on grunge days I dug the crap out of Nirvana (though truth be told I was always a Pearl Jam man) but these days they barely garner a ‘meh.’

I dig the influential nature of the scene. Rock certainly needed a good swift kick from hair metal, and arena rock. And when listening to the MTV Unplugged album, you can really get a feel for how great a songwriter Cobain, et al. was. But these days, my musical tastes swing the long shot away from the amped up new punk that is the bulk of their releases.

Nirvana
10/31/91
Seattle, WA
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A Halloween show just after Nirvana became the saviors of rock music. It is loud, full of angst and anger, and some pretty stinkin’ good melodies underneath it all.

From my 30 year old head, which prefers Donna the Buffalo to Soundgarden, Norah Jones to L7, this guitar heavy neo punk music takes awhile to warm up to. After the first listen I was bored. So I turned it up a few notches, this is rock ‘n freaking roll after all, and it needs to be cranked.

That helped, the rhythmic pounding blasting from my little Saturn’s speakers got me to head banging, all the way down to my pancreas.

But it still wasn’t enough; I kept wishing I had a copy of Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions, or maybe a Bruce Hornsby bootleg, circa 1997.

By the third listen my nerves had calmed down, my mind accepted the distortion, the noise, the grunge of it all and I began to digest the music.

For the love of grunge, this is some rockin’ shite.

For a band with only two albums under their belt they mix it up pretty well. They cover a good portion of Bleach and Nevermind, throw in a couple of new songs and even manage to cover the Vaseline’s “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam.”

The band seems to be in good spirits. Besides a rockin’ they make some cracks about the audience not being dressed up for Halloween, white boy funk and John Jacobs and the POWER team. But mostly they just rock out.

Listening to these guys throw down the heavy stuff for a fourth time didn’t make me join the cult of Nirvana once more, but it reminded me why I was once part of the faithful.

Book Review: Marathon Man by William Goldman

"Is it safe?" 

Who can forget that immortal line coming out of the late Laurence Olivier’s mouth in the movie based on William Goldman’s book, the Marathon Man

Olivier’s psychotic Nazi dentist is one of the great villains of the screen. If ever a character epitomizes the secret fears we hold for a profession, this is it. Olivier tearing at the nerves inside Dustin Hoffman’s mouth served to scare thousands out of the dentist chair for years.

The book, for which the movie is based, is an easy to read, page turning thriller. Goldman knows how to write sparingly, and judiciously. He writes like a master craftsman, knowing the story he wants to tell and how to get there in the most straightforward manner.

This is marvelous if you’re looking for an easy to read page turner to lie beside your bedside table, less so if you want something meatier to chew on.

The story is about a young college student and marathon runner, Babe, gets caught up with international assassins, and one Nazi on the lamb. There’s lots of cool killer-for-hire, secret spy stuff going on, a little romancing and one gruesome anti-dentite scene.

The problem there is that I kept thinking about the movie and not paying attention to the book. It’s a well crafted book, for sure, but it’s really hard to beat Sir Laurence as a psycho Nazi dentist looking for diamonds.

I have a habit of reading books that later become movies, or reading books after watching the movie it’s based on, or reading a book just before I see a movie. I’m not really sure why. I guess I like books that are good matches for the silver screen, and really like movies to the point of wanting to read more about them, get more in depth. It kind of spoils the surprise of a book or a movie when I have consumed its counterpart, but for whatever reason I do it a lot.

People say books are usually better than the movie because they supply more detail, but I have to disagree. There are plenty of movies that are better than their books. Take Marathon Man as an example. Neither the book nor the movie is a perfect masterpiece. They are both well crafted throw-aways. But for my money I’ll walk away with the movie. The thrills are tighter, the big scene is absolutely classic, and well it’s got Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier playing against each other.

It could also be that I saw the movie first and it’s hard to get thrilled about a thriller when you know how it ends. It could also be my reading habits where I tend to read one novel for 15 minutes and then pick up another one, and sometimes even another one. I have been known to read 4 or 5 books at a time and some of the details (especially important in a thriller) tend to get lost in the shuffle.

It’s a fine book, a well crafted, well oiled machine of a novel. It is a page turner, and a killer thriller. It’s a good weekend beach read. Something to hold onto until every page is read then toss away when you’re finished. Heck, for creating one last terrifying scene for Sir Laurence Olivier to chew on, William Goldman deserves a knighthood himself.

Random Shuffle – 6/19/06

b0001xasda01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_.jpg“Portland, Oregon” – Loretta Lynn with Jack White
From Van Lear Rose

Over the last several years I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Jack White and the White Stripes. They were leaders in the whole garage rock will save us trip a few years ago when a few guitar heavy bands with singular names began to bust down the teen pop revolution from the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

I was certainly no fan of teen pop, but musically I was in my own world of bootlegs, folk, bluegrass and jam bands. If I wanted garage rock to save my soul I had music from the 60’s to do it. What did I need the Vines or the Shins or Jack White for? 

When White produced a highly praised album by Loretta Lynn he got my attention. I didn’t know much about Loretta Lynn except her old school country roots, which was more than enough to get me buying this album. 

Truth be told, I flippin’ loved it. Loretta’s country charms and home spun tales mixed perfectly with Mr. White’s loud rollicking guitars. Loretta seemed to give White a grounding while he stirred up the Loretta’s dust. 

This is, perhaps, the best song on the disk, a duet no less with a good story to back up the electricity. 

I’ve found the truth in the White Stripes and I’ve begun to find the path again to Rock ‘n Roll. 

bangles.jpg"Manic Monday" – The Bangles
From Different Light 

Somewhere in the 90’s nostalgia for everything 80’s began to come around. Halfway through that decade it seemed all of my peers were enamored with the one we had just left. I spent the latter part of the millennium picking up every greatest hits package I could find from the “Me Decade.”

For the most part I’ve lost patience with all the one-hit wonders and giant popsters. I think I saturated myself too intensely with the stuff. It’s kind of like on pop stations today where they play the same four songs over and over again. Even if those songs are fantastic, you get sick of hearing them. There are a lot of songs from the 80’s, but there isn’t a “hit” that I’m not sick of hearing.

That being said, the Bangles were one of the larger rock acts of the time, and this song is a nice one (though I’d still take “Walk Like an Egyptian” over this one.)

belleville.jpg“Belleville Rendez-Vous” – Ben Charest
From The Triplets of Belleville

Ah, this is more to my liking these days. The movie, Triplets of Belleville is a lovely, stylistic, beautiful tale of a French bicyclist who teams up with some vaudeville style singers to rescue his kidnapped grandmother. It is told with almost no dialog, but engages the viewer with glorious visuals and a soundtrack to dance to.

This is the theme song, and it’s a bouncy, jazzy, dance-along affair. The kind of song used to impress young college girls, and music store hipsters. This is the French version, so I can’t actually understand much of what is being sung, but I don’t care. It’s enunciated in a manner that allows me to sing along while totally destroying the words.

Watch the movie, buy the soundtrack.

billybreathes.jpg“Waste” – Phish
From Billy Breathes

I’ve never been much for Phish. For awhile many claimed they were descendents to the throne of the Grateful Dead, a proclamation that garnered them as many detractors as it did fans.

I think they are astute musicians with some pretty darn fine chops, but I just can’t get into their songs. Partially it is the lyrics. Lyrically they are more Zappa influenced than that of the Grateful Dead. Though I’m not really a lyric guy, I want what I can understand to make some sort of sense – to be funny, poetic or at least interesting. Phish seem to be mostly silly, and it kind of annoys me.

Billy Breathes is supposed to be their American Beauty, their masterpiece. And while it does have some killer songs, as a whole it doesn’t get a lot of spins at my house. “Waste” is a pretty mellow rocker, with some lyrics I can actually kind of dig. “Come waste your time with me” is something I can put my larynx into.

There is a nice follow up with the lyrics, and the melody is nice and smooth. If the rest of their songs had this kind of flow, I might become a fan.

housecarpetner.jpg “Wayfaring Stranger” – Natalie Merchant
From House Carpenter’s Daughter

I’m an old 10,000 maniacs fan, and followed Natalie into her first solo disk. After that I kind of lost track. I’ve dug the hits, and nearly bought her folkie albums, always balking at the ever increasing charge for a full album these days.

“Wayfaring Stranger” is absolutely one of my all time favorite songs. It’s lyrics burrow down into the depths of my insides, and its sad weepful melody knock me out. Natalie’s accented, lisp of a voice carries with it some kind of mystery. The backing band on this live version (not actually on House Carpenter’s Daughter) plays the song in the reserved, hushed tones it deserves.

CD Review: Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions

When I first heard that Bruce Springsteen was releasing a Pete Seeger tribute, I was intrigued.  Not for anything Springsteen – whom I’ve never managed to <i>get</i>, he’s just too earnest for my ears – but for Seeger whom I adore. 

Upon the continual praise lauded upon this new disk from Sirs Saleski and DJRadiohead I finally went out and bought the disk. 

Sweet jeebus!  Holy mother of folk!  What a great freaking record. 

If I was an explorer and I came across some lonely tribe in the deepest, darkest African jungles that didn’t know what music was – had never heard a note – I would play this disk for them.  I would introduce music into their world with these songs 

It’s that good. 

If the big one dropped tonight, destroying this sad world we’ve created; years later when the few survivors crawled out of their holes, I would play them the Seeger Sessions to remind them that this world can still hold beauty. 

It’s that amazing.

Years ago, when I was but a lad, I attended a Christmas celebration at my grandmother’s Southern Baptist Church.  It was a spirited, holy-roller affair.  There was shouting, and praising, and the raising of hands, the talking in tongues, undulating palpations and laying on upon hands.  My little eyes didn’t know what to think. 

My uncle was there.  He is an old school man.  He is big and tough and sometimes mean.  He doesn’t cry.  He doesn’t feel.  He can rib a man to death with venomous jokes.  He’s a good man, but made from a mold of man they just don’t make anymore.  He was at this church.  He was on the stage.  He was crying, shouting out for Lord Jesus, weeping in that emotion. 

This album is a lot like that. 

It is both holy and profane.  It has the hushed tones of the haughtiest church, and the wild secularism of the Saturday night brothel. 

Springsteen is the preacher, the poet, the sinner, and shaman.  He stands on the altar giving salvation to the listener.

It is a big tent revival, a barn burner.  The band is full of the holy spirit of rock music and it’s the judgment day. 

There isn’t a song to highlight; there is nothing that stands out above the rest.  As I listened for the first time, I kept thinking it couldn’t get any better than the song playing.  I was proven wrong 14 times until the CD stopped playing.  Every song is perfect, every note spot on. 

Take “Shenandoah,” it is one of the few songs that can make me weep every time.  No matter where I am when the first longing notes begin to play I must pause and feel the weight of life sweep away.  Bruce simply nails it. 

He stares into the deep darkness, like the cold Missouri waters he sings about and sees the mysteries, and finds truth. 

This album, this collection of songs, pushes aside all that is wrong with music and the industry it supports.  It cracks the hard, crusty casing of pop music and finds something new, something mysterious.  If you look hard enough, if you stare into its cold dark waters you might just find a little sliver of truth yourself.

Random Shuffle – 6/11/06

I somehow managed to forget to post this weeks Random Shuffle, so here it is a little late.

b0000032rs01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_v56257094_.jpg“(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” – KC and the Sunshine Band From The Best of KC and the Sunshine Band

Truth be told, if the story comes out I’m really not a fan of dance music. Disco, hip hop, techno and rave music all gets a collective ‘meh’ from my bones. Maybe it’s that I’m a middle aged white boy with a Church of Christ background (where dancing is a sin) but the appeal of the dance club is completely lost on me. The loud music, the smoke, the embarrassment of having to shake your hips in rhythm just turn me off from the whole scene. This being true, the music involved has never really done anything for me.

There are a few exceptions. “Shake Your Booty” is one of them. It has enough infectious pop grooves in it to make a grandma shake. It also reminds me of a Simpsons’ clip show where they play this song along with a montage of all the Simpsons’ nudity from previous episodes. Hilarious stuff.

The booty shake of the music isn’t enough to get me out on the dance floor mind you. If played in public, I might jiggle my buns for the laugh effect, but then I’d keep myself firmly rooted in standing-ness, or sit-down-ness and just sing along. If the mood struck me, and I was feeling particularly frisky, I might get down a little in the privacy of my own home. The problem then comes back to my non dancing background and any attempt at hip movements from this old body usually result in laughter from my wife.

b000003jbe01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_.jpg“Tennessee” – Arrested Development
From 3 Years 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of…

I grew up in the 80’s. My musical sensibilities were developed in the early 90’s. I don’t like dance music. Rap and hip hop mean MC Hammer, Young MC and Vanilla Ice to me. I came of age musically in a time when radio wasn’t dominated by hip hop acts. This isn’t really to diss the genre of music, I just don’t get it. I see guys I work with, a good 5-10 years younger than me completely engaged with rap artists. I suspect if I had been born a few years later, I too would have at least some existence with this culture.

As it is, what I know of it comes from a period of time when it was marginalized as a novelty. Hammer and Vanilla were not real artists, they were mocking the true performers. They were circus performers, acceptable to the mainstream audience at a time when it didn’t know what to do with gangstas and hard core artists.

Even so, I think Arrested Development put out some dang good music for the time. “Tennessee” along with “People Everyday” stands up to the best music in my collection. They have just as much with common with what is now termed “Americana” than they do with rap. They threw in fat beats along with a folksy, country twang.

I know I’m no longer hip. My musical universe is so outside the popular or even hip world it would make me sad if I cared. I don’t know where Arrested Development fares amongst the kids today and their Eminems and Tupacs. What I do know is “Tennessee” is a great freaking song, no matter what genre you put it in.

b00004yr4c01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_.jpg“Fish and Whistle” – John Prine
From Souvenirs

Souvenirs is Prine’s album full of cover songs, except that he’s covering himself. Essentially he wrote a whole bunch of beautiful songs as a young man, that as an older man he felt he could do better. Sometimes he’s right, other times he sounds pretty much like he did when he was younger.

For “Fish and Whistle” I can’t make any proclamation, for I’ve never heard the original. But I must say this version is a treasure. Prine’s voice has aged gracefully over the years. It is never something you would call beautiful, but now the ruggedness has been toned down by something sounding suspiciously like wisdom. His lyrics have always been beyond his years, and now his voice has caught up to that.

The music here is lilting, catchy and sunny. Honestly I have no idea what the lyrics mean. They sound like Prine is making some kind of joke that I just don’t get, or being cynical about religion without being too hateful about it. Either way, its fun to sing along even if I don’t know what I’m saying.

b000001dqi01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_.jpg“Candle in the Wind (acoustic version)” – Elton John
From Yellow Brick Road

John completely ruined this song for me with his Princess Diana tribute. I was never mesmerized by the Princess in life or death. I didn’t wish her any harm, and she’s seems to have done some good in this world, but she lived in a world I just wasn’t particularly interested in. John changing his lyrics to lionize her, however honest and heartfelt, always seemed like a cheap way to make a buck.

This version begins to sway my feelings back. It is an acoustic version with a guitar playing the piano parts. It seems more stripped down, more honest. Like it has torn the exuberant, Liberace Elton away from the honest songwriter.

It is a beautiful, heart tearing version of a song I’m happy to relive again.

b00005yjdi01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_.jpg“Conscious Evolution” – Donna the Buffalo
From Live from the American Ballroom

I must say the time I caught this band live here in Bloomington it was a much better show than what I hear from this live album. Maybe it was that I was but ten feet from the band, or maybe it was the pretty girls dancing around me, but that show was so sweeeet, where this disk is a good deal of fun, but nothing mind blowing.

This song has a good deal of verve to it. They get out there a little bit with a revolution groove that jiggles my innards. There is a curviness to the guitar that completely melts my inner sanctum.

Halfway through it morphs into "Working on a Building" an old spiritual that fits perfectly into their roots musical background and their own spirtual lyrics.

Bootleg Country: U2 – 08/28/93

When asked what season I love the most, autumn is the usual reply. What with the cool, crisp air, the turned leaves that resemble Joseph’s magic Technicolor coat. But when spring comes, I always reconsider.

The sun returns from its slumber. Flowers burst forth and the weather warms my toes – for it is barefoot season again. Spring also makes me fall in love all over again. And when I say love, I mean lust. What with the acres of exposed skin, seething flesh, long luxurious legs, and bountiful boobies.

Yeah, boobies. I love spring for the boobies.

My first true love, the one I’ll always remember is a little Irish rock band called U2.

The year was 1987 I was 11 years old, puberty was in the air, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was in heavy rotation. What a great, f-ing song. Seriously, it’s one of the greatest rock songs ever. Put me on a desert island and that song, nay, the whole bloody album will be coming with me.

That year, and for many to come, I ensconced myself in U2. I went back and bought their old albums, I practically lived with Wide Awake in America in my car. They went live with Rattle and Hum, I memorized ever line from Bono’s mouth. They became electronic and ironic, and I came along for the ride.

They were my band.

Over the years U2 and I have parted ways. The dance beats of Pop didn’t move me. They repented their ways and returned to their roots, but I moved on. I discovered jazz and the jam. But no matter how far apart we’ve grown, I’ll always remember my first true love.

U2
08/28/93
Dublin, Ireland
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This was the final stop of the European leg of their Pop Mart tour. What better place to finish up than back home? It is some year and a half after they unveiled the ironic sensibilities of their Zoo TV stage presence. Bono has now become The Fly an enigmatic caricature of a rock star – part Jim Morrison, part Lou reed – donning leather pants, slicked hair and wrap around bubble sun glasses.

This is a far cry from the black and white earnestness of Rattle and Hum era U2.

The boys start out breaking one of my rules for a successful concert. That being, don’t play every song from your new album right off the bat. It is seven songs into the show before we get a song that isn’t off of Actung Baby. Sure, it’s freaking “New Years Day” and it stinking rocks, but shouldn’t you treat your home audience to more than just your new songs?

It’s true that Actung Baby is over a year old by that point, and certainly most of the Dublin audience would have digested it already, but it still seems a little rude, to me anyway. However, since this is a bootleg, and it’s now 2006 those songs are old and now classic.

The new music is still played with ecstasy. You wouldn’t know that this is the end of a long tour for the band. It is energetic and fantastic.

From everything I had heard about this tour, I suspected the music to take a second seat to all the postulating and cheeky visuals. Maybe there were loads of cheeky visuals that I just can’t see through the music, but the songs don’t suffer for it. There are a few moments when Bono rattles on and flips through the channels on that enormous TV, but mostly he keeps quiet, allowing the songs to say it all.

The band is still clearly clued into its audience. Even with the newer songs you can hear everyone in the audience sing along. They mix in some old classics into the new songs – The Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” is perfectly tagged into the end of “One.” The Beatles classic “Help” helps begin “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and the show ends with a lovely sing-a-long version of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

My favorite moment, in fact, is sans band. Bono sings an a capella version of “Help” with the audience singing at the top of their lungs. It is a perfect moment where the audience becomes an intimate member of the production, and where I can’t help but sing along either. It is a testament to the powerful Beatles song, the power of music, and why U2 remains the biggest rock band in the universe.

Another wonderful moment is “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It follows a super version of “Running to Stand Still,” where that song closes, “Streets” opens with a quiet meditative organ. You can feel the audience realizing what they are about to hear with an explosion of cheers just as the guitar erupts and the crowd goes completely bonkers. The song spreads into the cosmos and everything is just alright.

In the last issue of “Bootleg Country” I talked about the ability of the Grateful Dead to change a simple song into something different, something exploratory. U2 is not a psychedelic jam band. The songs here are treated pretty much as they are on their perspective albums. What they create in this live setting is an energy, a connection with the listener that is just as transformative.

This was a great concert from one of the world’s biggest bands in the middle of a transformation that would lead them to something further and grander.

Movie Review: Murderous Maids

Two sisters, chambermaids for a wealthy French family, brutally murdered their employer, Mrs. Ancelin and her daughter Geneviève, one February evening 1933, in the small French town of Le Mans. This incident rocked French society for weeks.

Well, I say it rocked French society, but really, I have no idea if it had any affect what-so-ever. It would be some 40 years after the murder that I would be born, and I’ve seen no information about it’s affect on France other than the publicity material associated with the film based upon the events, The Murderous Maids, and other reviews of said movie.

If it is true that this incident did rock French society at the time, and I’ll accept them as such, it is ponderous that it is so. Though certainly brutal, and laced with the peculiarity of having been committed by insane and incestuous sisters, it still seems peculiar that such an event would be anything more than curious to a culture whose history is laced with violence and brutality.

I wonder similar things when I watch the national news in America. Certain events, for whatever reason, capture the news and become so saturated that they permeate our whole culture. Millions of people have had to make the decision to “pull the plug” on a loved one, so why did Terry Schiavo’s case get national attention?

Countless murders are committed in this country every year, yet for months in 2004 the only one that mattered was that of Laci Peterson, at least if the news had anything to say about it.

It is an amazingly strange and unanswerable thing to me why some stories capture the attention of the media, and thus my nation, while so many others slip away into obscurity.

In the case of the murderous maids, Christine and Léa Papin, the media hype seems to surround the horror (Oh, the horror!) of two lower class maids striking out against their upper class masters. As if it might start another revolution.

The film is a slow burning affair. It tries to get into the heads of these sisters and give us a glimpse into why two seemingly meek and mild maids could explode and commit such atrocities.

Honestly, I spent the first 20 minutes of the film, confused as to who was what, and what exactly was happening. The opening scene involves the sisters at a young age. Christine wants to become a nun, like her older sister but is forced into servitude by her mother. We fast forward several years without warning and see the older sister only once more, and that briefly. Maybe I was a bit sleepy, or maybe I was too busy trying to remember my rusty French to compare it to the subtitles but with the changes in time and the disappearance of characters I spent a good bit of the first half utterly confused.

Once the film settles into the lives of the two sisters it begins introducing moments that ultimately contribute to their murderous madness. Their mother is shown as greedy and selfish, taking Léa’s money manipulating her through emotional black mail. The masters of the homes are cruel and unforgiving.

The only kindness and semblance of love the two can find is from themselves. This love turns incestuous and further turns their situation into an “us” versus “them” scenario. Christine is clearly the leader of the two, while Léa is shy, quiet and easily lead.

After numerous jobs they finally land one where the two of them can serve. They seem happy at first, finding some praise from their strict master while at the same time she puts on white gloves for perpetual inspection of their cleanliness.

It is when Léa burns out a fuse for the second time that things go haywire. Fearing a severe scolding from their masters, they instead beat them to a bloody pulp.

In jail, Christine begins receiving visions, goes into holy fits, writes crosses on the walls with her tongue and continuously wails out for her sister. Despite this, the incestuous relationship, the troubled family life, and the extreme violence of the crime fitted with lack of a clear motive, the French court decides to allow none of this in as evidence and their psychiatrists find both mentally stable.

Though it’s English title, and even plot description reads as a B-movie exploitation flick, the film unravels in a slow, methodical method. The sex and violence are both graphically photographed, but in between such titillating moments the scenes are tediously paced. It is all artfully made, professional to a tee, and really rather dull.

It makes no decisions as to why the sisters did what they did. There is no judgment placed upon the mother, upper class society, or even the sisters. It is told in a documentary style, allowing events to unfold as they are without extemporaneous commentary. In fact there is not one note of music played throughout the entire film. The viewer is left to decide how to feel, and what to think.

Murderous Maids is a character study of two historical women who are captured the consciousness of French society. It is a fascinating story about how two seemingly downtrodden and simple women can be turned murderous. It’s too bad the film couldn’t have been more interesting itself

Random Shuffle – 06/05/06

B000002OWD.01._AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg“Barometer Soup” – Jimmy Buffett
from Barometer Soup

I once played this song at a party where my Trinidadian friend was in attendance. Upon hearing Buffett’s white boy take on her native carribean beats she could only shake her head in disgust.

By no means am I a Parrotthead. Buffett gets very repetitive and annoying, yet there is something soothing, playful and even lovely in some of his music. This is one of my favorites. It’s got a lilting rhythm accentuated by steel drums.

The lyrics are simple, hopeful and full of not exactly wisdom but soothing in their own cheesy kind of way.

The wisdom of Buffet goes something like this:

Sail the main course
In a simple sturdy craft
Keep her well stocked
With short stories and long laughs
Go fast enough to get there
But slow enough to see
Moderation seems to be the key

Besides anyone who basis his life on sitting on the beach, drinking margaritas and having fun can’t be all that bad.

B000002OWD.01._AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_1.jpg“Running on Faith” – Eric Clapton
from Unplugged

This is a song that had more weight for me a few years back than it does now, but it still moves me down to my bones.

Tis a song filled with loneliness from someone left with nothing but the hope of love, a hope that is slowly running out. For many a year I felt just exactly like that. And though today I have a true love, I remember the loneliness, the pain, the wondering longingly if there was someone out there just for me.

Put in the hands of Eric Clapton and an acoustic guitar and the song just aches. Listening to this song for the first time in a very long time just now, fills my eyes with tears and a pain in my heart. Loneliness is a bastard, sometime even when you’re not alone.

B000002OWD.01._AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_2.jpg “Rocket Man” – Elton John
from Honky Chateau

They say this is based upon a Ray Bradbury short story. With all the imagery of space and that lonely synth playing, one can easily see how.

I’ve mentioned before on Random Shuffle how I’ve really began to dig the early years of Elton John. This song fits right into that spectrum, and I certainly dig the crap out of it, though I’ve certainly know this song for many a year.

The lyrics “Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids/In fact it's cold as hell” just gets me every time.

B000002OWD.01._AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_3.jpg “Angel from Montgomery” – Bonnie Raitt
from Road Tested

This was written by John Prine, but Bonnie Raitt has really made it her own over the years. There is a version that appears on both Prine and Raitt’s disks where they duet on this song, that is just jaw droppingly gorgeous. Prine’s rasp fits perfectly into Raitt’s soulful mourn of a voice. When Raitt sings

How the hell can a person
Go to work in the morning
Come home in the evening
And still have nothing to say?

Breaks my heart every time. The lyrics tell the story of an old woman to perfection.

This is another live version with guys like Shawn Colvin and Bruce Hornsby playing along. Not that you can tell because they don’t do much more than sing back up. Here, Raitt speaks the versus rather than sing and though she still has soul, it just can’t compare to the duet with Prine.

You owe it to yourself to seek out that version.

B000002OWD.01._AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_4.jpg “Absolutely Cuckoo” – Magnetic Fields
from 69 Love Songs

Stephen Merritt, the brains and main performer for the Magnetic Fields wanted to create an album of 100 love songs. But after considering how long that would actually be he settled for the next best number when considering love.

The three disk set that comprises 69 Love Songs is a rare and beautiful thing made up of quirky instrumentation and ironic, funny lyrics.

This song wraps lyrics around each other with a fast, almost pulsating instrumentation. At just under two minutes it is quite short (most of the songs on the album are) but it moves along like a snowball rolling down a steep incline. It’s not the best song on the album, but it fits perfectly well amongst all the quirkiness.

Former Tubes Frontman and Grateful Dead Keyboardist Vince Welnick Dead

Founding member of the Tubes and former keyboardist for the Grateful Dead, Vince Welnick, died last Friday. 

It was an apparent suicide, according to Sonoma County Sheriff’s department in Calif., though this has yet to be confirmed. 

Welnick first garnered notice with the theatrical, avant-garde rock and roll group, The Tubes.  They were more appreciated for their wild, elaborate live productions than for their studio work.  In 1983 they scored their only Top 40 hit with “She’s a Beauty.” 

With the death of keyboardist Brent Mydland, Welnick joined the Grateful Dead in 1990.  He stayed with the band until Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. 

He is the fourth keyboardist of the Grateful Dead to have died sudden or unexpected deaths, leading some to believe in a curse over that position. 

Post the Grateful Dead Welnick continued to play music and tour with the Missing Man Formation, as well as a brief stint with Bob Weir’s Ratdog.