Monday, January 31, 2011

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: Akira Kurosawa

By Jordan

Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

“The greatest living example of all that an author of the cinema should be.”-Federico Fellini, on Akira Kurosawa

“One thing that distinguishes him is that he didn’t make one masterpiece or two masterpieces. He made, you know, eight masterpieces.” –Francis Ford Coppola, on Kurosawa

Perhaps the most difficult thing about writing this column is coming up against the greats in cinema history and trying to condense their legendary status into 2,000 words and one or a few topics. There is no way to possibly do justice to a cinematic legacy as rich and diverse as that of Akira Kurosawa. And yet, here I am, trying anyway. Kurosawa made films for 50 years, starting directly after the end of World War II and continuing until shortly before his death in 1998 at 88 years old. Cinema was his one driving passion, so much so that when his wife of 45 years died during the filming of Ran, his last epic, he stopped production for one day to mourn and then just kept shooting. Over the course of his career he brought Japanese cinema to the rest of the world, becoming so critically lauded that his movies were seen the world over. Throughout his career, Kurosawa took pains to document and translate aspects of Japanese culture to audiences all around the world, and thus to give people insight into the country’s history and its reactions to the destruction of World War II.

In 1950, Kurosawa burst onto the international scene with Rashomon, an examination of the subjective nature of experience, a look into the darkest aspects of man’s soul, and a refutation of objective truth. The film examines the rape of a woman (Machiko Kyo) and the murder of her husband (Masayuki Mori) by a bandit (Toshiro Mifune, a longtime Kurosawa collaborator), and examines the efforts of first a magistrate, and later three peasants (including Takashi Shimura, another longtime collaborator as a woodcutter who witnessed the encounter) to determine what actually occurred. The story is relayed from the point of view of each character and comes across in wildly different ways. The film offers the simple message that each person has an agenda and their version of the events is bound to be colored by it, but it also examines the class structure and sexual politics of samurai era Japan in-depth. The woman, in varying accounts, is so shamed by the rape that she demands her husband kill the bandit, or the bandit kill her husband, so that it can still be said that she has only been with one man. The woodcutter would seem to have the definitive account until his position as the unbiased witness is compromised. Yet an act of seemingly pure kindness (which is likely still motivated by guilt), the film ends on the idea that people can do good, especially if their motives aren’t examined too carefully.

Two years later, Kurosawa examined modern Japan, the postwar bureaucracy, and the need for life to have meaning in the beautiful, inspirational Ikiru, which follows Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura, in perhaps his best performance), an aging and widowed bureaucrat with a son and daughter in law that seem to care only about their inheritance. When he discovers that he has a terminal case of stomach cancer and less than a year to live, he determines to live it to the fullest, attempting to immerse himself in the Japanese nightlife and trying to learn how to live joyously from a raucous young co-worker before finally deciding to overcome to bureaucracy and spend his last months building a park for the children of his community. Uplifting, gorgeous, and completely inspirational, Ikiru criticizes the Japanese postwar bureaucracy, sure, but more importantly exists as a testament to the indomitable spirit of man, who tirelessly attempts to find happiness and meaning in a life that often seems devoid of both.

In 1954 Kurosawa made easily his most famous film, Seven Samurai, an epic following the efforts of a poor village to survive an attack by bandits by hiring the eponymous warriors to defend them. One of the first films to ever show a team being assembled and developing a strategy before undertaking their mission (a structure that has been aped by everything from the western remake The Magnificent Seven to The Dirty Dozen and even Ocean’s Eleven), the film examines samurai culture and looks again at the class structure of feudal Japan. As the film nears its conclusion, the samurai muse that even if they win the battle, the true victor will be the farmers, whose work will survive untold generations while the samurai’s traditions will disappear.

Following that, Kurosawa took on the postwar fears of his people directly in I Live in Fear: Record of a Living Being, which follows an elderly man (Toshiro Mifune) so terrified of nuclear annihilation that he tries to convince his family to move to Brazil where he believes they will escape the fallout. In response, his family takes him to court to have him declared incompetent so he can’t spend their inheritance moving them to South America. The doctor who evaluates the man (Takashi Shimura) at first believes he is incompetent, but then begins to question whether the man makes sense in a world gone mad. The film questions attitudes toward the elderly, the Japanese court system, and examines the postwar nihilism that afflicted so many in Japan.

Kurosawa next took on Shakespearean lore, adapting Macbeth into a tale of samurai ambition in 1957’s Throne of Blood. The film follows Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), a loyal soldier who is told by a spirit in the woods that he will soon be Lord of the Forest Castle, which, along with the ambitious machinations of his wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) drives Washizu on a murderous rampage to claim what’s rightfully his. An exercise in combining a narrative well known to the west with the style of Japan, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood has often been called the most successful film adaptation of Macbeth to date.

In 1958 Kurosawa released The Hidden Fortress, a film that would go on to inspire the structure (and many of the story beats) of Star Wars: A New Hope nearly twenty years later. The film follows two bickering peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who escape from a battle and find themselves traveling with a battle hardened general (Toshiro Mifune) who aims to transport a defeated Princess (Misa Uehara) and what remains of her fortune to safe territory. Together they transport the Princess through enemy territory, hoping to get her to a place where she can rebuild her armies and retake her land. Sound familiar?

Kurosawa spent much of the 1960’s making financial failures (though a few critical successes, most notably 1965’s Red Beard, his last collaboration with Toshiro Mifune) and by the late 1970’s, was forced to look abroad for financing to make his next films. His last great epic, 1985’s Ran went back to the Shakespearean well and adapted King Lear, again set against a samurai backdrop. Lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai), a fierce warrior who has defeated many enemies and created a large empire, decides to abdicate his throne and divide his kingdom among his three sons. What results is a tragic battle for power in which Hidetora is driven out of all the places he once called home and goes mad from isolation while his sons, and eventually his former enemies are embroiled in a seemingly endless war for land and power.

His next film, 1990’s Dreams, is arguably the director’s most personal effort, documenting a series of recurring dreams that Kurosawa had throughout his life. From the childlike wonder of “The Peach Orchard” to the fear of death in “The Blizzard,” to the survivors guilt of “The Tunnel,” to the artistic celebration of “Crows” (which notably features Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh), to the nuclear terror of “The Demon Weeps” and finally to the tranquil peace of “The Village of the Watermills” the film feels like a step into the director’s head, and an examination of what made Kurosawa tick.

So vast is Kurosawa’s technical influence that I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss some of his most important flourished. He was known for use of the axial cut, in which the camera moves closer to or farther from the subject not through tracking but through a series of matched jump cuts that give the scene the feeling of increased detachment. Kurosawa was also known for his tendency to cut on motion, cutting during an action so that it is completed in two shots instead of the standard one. Finally, Kurosawa was a huge proponent of the wipe, in which action cuts from one scene to another by “wiping away the image” (a technique often used by George Lucas, who we will discuss in the next installment).

Akira Kurosawa directed 30 films over a 50 year career. He wrote or co-wrote the screenplay for every single film he directed, and also edited all of them (only taking on screen credit for some). In addition to this, he was instrumental in location scouting, costume design, cinematography, and directly coached each actor on the specifics of their performance, even going so far as to tell leach of the samurai in Seven Samurai how their characters might tie their shoes. Each moment in a Kurosawa film is engineered exactly as the director wanted, written to his specifications, performed as he envisioned, shot where and how he wanted, and edited to have the exact sense of pace an motion he desired. Perhaps more than any director we have yet covered, Kurosawa ensured that each and every work he released was wholly and completely his own.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Coming up on Who's Film Is It Anyway?:

2/13: George Lucas

2/27: Quentin Tarantino

3/13: Hal Ashby

3/27: Michael Bay

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Random Pop Culture Top Ten List: Top 10 Pilots That Aren't Pilots

By Jordan

Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) weekly list in which the Review To Be Named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

The pilot is a weird and wonderful thing, simultaneously the birth of a television show and often one of its worst efforts. Most importantly though, a pilot is a chance to introduce the potential audience to the world of the show and to give them an idea of the major themes the show will explore every week. A great pilot should put us in the world of the series and leave us clamoring to come back next week. Sometimes, however, that feeling is replicated by something in pop culture that is not intended (or in some cases on this list, not directly intended) to be the pilot for a television series. Sometimes we are left wishing that something we just encountered was actually going to be a television show, and thus give us the opportunity to continuously come into contact with these characters and enter the world. Here are ten instances where we were left wishing something was a tv pilot:

10. The American President

Ok, so technically Aaron Sorkin wrote The American President as sort of a test balloon to prove to networks that he could make people interested in the day to day lives of White House staffers and thus enable him to create his magnum opus, The West Wing. But it worked. Ostensibly a romantic comedy, the film follows President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), a widowed Commander in Chief who falls for lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). And while thir courtship is the perfect example of the sort of romantic tension Sorkin would utilize perfectly after his move to television (and would have probably worked about as well extended to a season or seasons long relationship), its the stuff around the edges of the film that left us begging to get back in that White House next week. From the complex and endearing relationship between Shepherd and his Chief of Staff (Martin Sheen, who would go on to play President Bartlet on The West Wing) to the smarmy but charming Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox, clearly a Josh Lyman prototype), to the President's relationship with his precocious teenage daughter Lucy (Shawna Waldron, who would later be Elizabeth Moss on The West Wing), the film is filled around the edges with characters and relationships that simply beg to be fleshed out. And, when the President prepares to deliver the State of the Union at the film's end, it is bound to give you chills and leave you wishing there was more where that came from. Fortunately, in this case, there was.

9. "Amends," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Another example where our dreams of a pilot came true (and was in fact planned before this episode), "Amends" acts as a sort of pre-pilot for Angel, delving into his past, exploring his tortured soul, and ultimately giving him a reason to stay alive and keep fighting the good fight. Joss Whedon brought Angel back from a Hell dimension for the sheer purpose of prepping him for the spin-off the WB had offered the character, but "Amends" is perhaps the first time that Angel, a compelling character and an excellent performance by Boreanaz, seemed like he could really carry a show that wouldn't have his romantic tension with Buffy to fall back on. One of the best episodes Buffy ever did, "Amends" exists as the series' only Christmas episode, true, but more importantly it puts Angel once and for all on his own path toward redemption for his past sins. And while we had to wait nine long months for the show's actual pilot (which used footage from "Amends" in its theme song), Angel proved well worth it.

8. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Pretty much any of David Sedaris' books could be adapted into a television show (and in fact any such show would probably draw from every one of his books), but Me Talk Pretty One Day seems to lend itself most readily to serialization. Imagine a show built around Sedaris' move with his partner Hugh to France, and his bumbling attempts to fit into the French culture and learn the language while adapting to a totally new lifestyle. Unlike Outsourced, though, the show wouldn't devolve into a series of xenophobic gags so much as it would likely be a witty fish out of water story. Plus, any Sedaris centered show would be rife with flashbacks to his dysfunctional childhood and his life back in America (many of which could be drawn from the essays in the first part of Me Talk Pretty One Day) and just begging for visits from his family to his new home. The show could be completely episodic, but could also easily develop a serialized narrative as Sedaris slowly reconciles his childhood and the life he had in America with the man he is becoming in France.

7. "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase, " The Simpsons

Actually a parody of the idea of spinning off characters from a hit show for little apparent reason, "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" is successful in mocking how terrible and contrived many spin-offs are, but also left us wondering if any show could possibly have more fruit for a spin-off than The Simpsons. Along with "22 Short Films About Springfield," this episode is a reminder of how strong many of the supporting characters on the show are, and while all of the spin-offs presented in this episode are intentionally awful, there's a chance that during its heyday, the show could have come up with something brilliant to do with its humongous cast of characters. Now, though, its probably best they stay on The Simpsons to give the writers enough material to keep the juggernaut running for another 45 years.

6. Gun, With Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem

People love procedurals, right? Well, if Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music became a TV series, it could singlehandedly merge prcedural television with more experimental, David Lynch-esque fare, and draw in fans of science fiction to boot. The novel follows Conrad Metcalf, a pretty standard hard boiled private-eye type, except for the fact that he lives in a dystopian future where some children, called babyheads, are hyper-evolved to be more intelligent, and thus more cynical than most adults, where animals can also be bioengineered to possess the intelligence of humans, where psychology is seen as a fringe belief that makes adherents akin to Jehovah's Witnesses, where asking questions is seen as rude, where everyone is on some type of behavior modifying drug, and where people can trade erogenous zones in order to experience sex as someone from the opposite gender (a procedure which has left our hero with his ex-girlfriend's parts after she skipped town with his). If this doesn't sound like the weirdest possible twist on the detective procedural you've ever heard of, there's plenty more strangeness at hand in Lethem's brilliant book. Taking the standard noir tropes and throwing them into the future has been done many times before (and has a whole genre, neo-noir, pretty much dedicated to the idea), yet never with such transcendant absurdism as in Lethem's book. Tuning in every week to watch Metcalf solve a mystery would be a blast, but watching the world he lives in become more fully realized and the conspiracies behind it slowly unravel would make for the perfect masterplot to back up the show's procedural elements.

5. Boogie Nights

Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling epic about the porn industry in the '70s and '80s examines a huge cast of characters and spans decades, giving it more than enough scope to hold up as a full television series. The film centers around Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), a naive young guy with a "gift" that makes him best suited for the industry. And while Diggler's loss of innocence and growing ego would hold as a compelling center for a series, there are pretty much infinite possibilities for character development and storylines already built into the movie. The family dynamic of Jack Horner's (Burt Reynolds) band of misfits, the friendship between Diggler and his new best friend/partner in crime Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), the dysfunctional and ultimately futile marriage between cuckolded Little Bill (William H. Macy) and a porn star (Nina Hartley), the maternal tenderness of Amber (Julianne Moore), who comes with a tragic backstory involving a failed marriage and lost custody of her children, and the sexually free Rollergirl (Heather Graham) would all have plenty of conflict to examine more in depth, and if the show ever got tired of examining the porn industry, there are already other avenues to look into available to it, like the dynamics of Maurice Rodriguez' (Luis Guzman) club, the music industry and Dirk and Reed's attempts to break into it, and even the growing drug market, with the compelling Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) just begging to be allowed to grow as a character. Just writing about it makes me pine for the movie to be expanded to series length.

4. "The Cowboy And The Frenchman"

Made for French television as part of the series The French as seen by... (a five part show that asked major filmmakers including Werner Herzog and Jean Luc Godard to exhibit their views on the French and French Culture), David Lynch's "The Cowboy And The Frenchman" has such a unique blend of iconography and absurdism that it will leave you wishing it was the first episode of a show. The short follow the capture of a Frenchman (Frederic Golchon) by a Cowboy (Harry Dean Stanton) and his ranch hand (Jack Nance) who are shocked by his strange ways until they see the french fries he is carrying and determine he must be from France. While the short concludes itself by having the Frenchman find success in America as a country singer, a series could easily be drawn from the completely insane and often surral farm on which the short takes place, whether the French character stayed around and the show became a twisted parody of culture clash television (like Perfect Strangers and Outsourced) or whether he disappeared after the pilot and left us with the almost entirely deaf Cowboy and his incompetent, doltish ranch hand, just following their adventures in David Lynch's hyper-stylized mockery of the American iconography of the Wild West.

3. "5 Years" by David Bowie

Imagine a pilot in which newscasters came on the air and announced that scientists had discovered the planet earth only had five years left before it would explode, killing everything on it. Pretty dark stuff, right? And yet, a show based around the opening track of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust could go in absolutely any direction with that premise. It could follow an average man trying to decide how to spend his last five years on Earth. It could follow government officials trying to keep order in a society that has no reason left to play nice. It could follow a team of scientists trying to save the Earth. It could follow a team of inventors trying to develop a way to get us off the planet before its destruction. It could even intersperse all of these stories. Any number of science fiction books and movies have taken place after the destruction of the Earth, yet following humanity as it faces the spectre of its certain demise, and documenting how people, and society at large reacts to the news could make for compelling television.

2. "Gone to Texas" Preacher

Garth Ennis' stellar comic book series would make a fantastic television show. Following Jesse Custer, a preacher who's lost his faith, but gains immense power when he is bonded to Genesis, a half-angel half-demon that gives him The Word of God, an ability that forces everyone to do exactly what he says. Along with his gun-slinging ex-girlfriend Tulip O'Hare and a hard drining Irish vampire named Cassidy, Jesse decides to take his greivances to God himself, but not before coming up against a litany of maniacs and supernatural forces desperate to get their hands on Genesis and use Jesse's power for their own sick ends. Pitch black, depraved, hilarious, complicated and flat out bad ass, Preacher would make for an excellent examination of the role of religion in America, the iconography of the south, and the unique brand of American insanity. The series' first arc, "Gone to Texas" introduces the series main characters, puts them up against a terrifying killer, and gives us a glimpse of both the quorum of Angels desperate to stop Jesse and the weapon they plan to use, the immortal, unstoppable Saint of Killers. Basically, it sets up everything you might need to launch a series that would be controversial, sure, but also intelligent, quick witted, scary, and all around incredible.

1. Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek, you may or may not know, was already a series back in the '60s that has launched countless spin-offs, movies and fan conventions. Yet in the age of the reboot, its kind of shocking that J.J. Abrams film-reboot wasn't just made as a reboot of the original series. Written and directed by a man who cut his teeth in television (with Felicity, Alias, and Lost under his belt), Star Trek spends its runtime getting the crew of the Enterprise together and sending them on their first adventure. The film ends with the crew finally all in the places we know they belong, and with the newly christened Captain Kirk commanding the crew to head off toward their next adventure. We're not even Trekkies, here at Review To Be Named, but we left the movie so jazzed on the mythos and the dynamics that we couldn't wait to see where it went next. Sure, the budget would have been drastically smaller in a television version, but if Abrams nailed the character dynamics as well as he did in the movie, we would have been watching the series eagerly every week, probably reviewing it rhapsodically here, and maybe even becoming converts to perhaps the geekiest cadre around. And Sam probably would've gone to a few conventions. Just Sam though...

Read more Random Pop Culture Top Ten List here

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Four

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“Elvis might never have been born, but someone else would surely have brought the world rock 'n' roll. No such logic accounts for Bob Dylan. No iron law of history demanded that a would-be Elvis from Hibbing, Minnesota, would swerve through the Greenwich Village folk revival to become the world's first and greatest rock 'n' roll beatnik bard and then—having achieved fame and adoration beyond reckoning—vanish into a folk tradition of his own making.”-J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

“They have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the '50s rockabilly revival and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend.”-Robert Palmer, music critic for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, on The Cars

To a certain extent, and in my somewhat limited experience both reading it and attempting to carry it out, musical criticism is a vague, elusive practice that much more than film, television, or literary criticism comes down to trying, often in vain, to replicate in words the feeling that a certain song gives you when you hear it. This is not to say (nor do I mean to imply) that there are not absolutes in music criticism and that the entire practice amounts to trying not to sound insanely pretentious while waxing intellectual on lofty ideas like nostalgia, political upheaval, and kick ass guitar solos. While I do agree that musical criticism is a more exact science than I am jokingly giving it credit for and that there are definitive ways to argue that The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is better than N’Sync’s No Strings Attached just as there are definitive ways to make the case that Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca is slightly more solid than, say Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached (see what I did there?), I will say that often times music criticism reads as more pretentious and pseudo-intellectual than perhaps it should. That being said, here comes perhaps the most pretentious and pseudo-intellectual installment yet of My Year in Lists.

Both a dedicated and a logical approach to the aims of this column require that at some point I tackle the insanely pretentious and potentially almost silly question that lies dormant at the bedrock of all pursuits into the history of music, its effect on us and the meaning it gives our lives. And that is (bear with me here folks): what is music? What can we call music and what becomes simply sounds recorded? I could spend the entirety of this installment examining the definition of music from an ontological, sociological, philosophical and compositional standpoint and try to come up with a definitive answer to that question. In all honesty, however, I wouldn’t say that I am nearly at the level of musical expertise required to tackle that question, and let’s not forget, that’s not really why we’re here. So instead I will examine the question through the lens of the only album I have encountered on this quest so far that actually made me stop and think, “Is this music?” Tab’s pick for this week, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s The Black Record.

In his introduction to his list, Tab stated that one of his guiding principles when choosing the music he would subject me to over this year-long quest was picking out essential artists who shaped (or in some cases even created full genres) music as we find it today. Having listened to Tab’s music many times before over my life (I’ll save some anecdotes for the future, but believe me, they are forthcoming), I knew when I asked him to provide one of the lists for this feature that I would get some things a few steps outside the norm, and if there’s one term that can be used to describe The Black Record, it is “outside the norm.” If I was about 60 years older, I would probably describe The Black Record as 43 minutes of noise, and older, more crotchety Jordan is essentially right.

The album is composed of only two tracks, that methodically repeat basically the same sounds ad nauseum until the question arises as to whether the track is skipping or you’ve gone completely insane. At the same time, however, the quiet repetition and soothing structure are actually sort of relaxing, to the point where at about the 17 minute mark I wondered if I had gone insane and then been given some Valium to calm down the effects of my psychosis.

My initial reaction to The Black Record was to scoff. My second reaction was to elevate the scoff to full out laughter and to go off on a rant that, again, probably will sound more age-appropriate in half a century. However, my third reaction was to think about the album and about whether it was music at all. It turns out, that’s mostly the point. La Monte Young (Born La Monte Thornton Young, which also made me wonder if Tab, who is actually named Thornton, selected him to get someone with his real name onto the list) studied music at Los Angeles City College, got his B.A. from UCLA and later studied further at Berkeley. So the question of whether this was the work of an idiot locked in a recording studio is pretty much thrown out the window right there. Young was close friends with Yoko Ono in the early ‘60s, and she often hosted concerts for him in lofts around New York City (something tells me the decidedly strange and often atonal Ono enjoyed Young’s music on a level I’ll never aspire to). In 1964 Young began working with an ensemble including John Cale, who as we discussed last week would later site Young as his primary influence on The Velvet Underground & Nico (a much more enjoyable album than The Black Record, but then, it was intended to be). That group included Marian Zazeela, a light artist who would become so vital to the live performances of The Black Record that she is actually included alongside Young as a collaborator on the album.

Young focused throughout most of his career on forcing audiences to examine their preconceived notions about the nature and definition of music, and stressed elements of performance art much more heavily than his actual sound. To a certain extent this means that listening to The Black Record without seeing Young and Zazeela live is kind of like trying to write about the scores of Nino Rota without having seen the films he was scoring (which means, though it may be unwise, I’ll do it anyway). However, unlike Rota, Young tried to be purposefully obtuse, atonal and minimalist throughout his career. Which means, again, that Nino Rota is a whole lot more enjoyable than La Monte Young, who nevertheless is considered one of the most important and radical creators of post-World War II avante garde, experimental and drone music and is generally recognized as the first true minimalist composer. So is The Black Record music? Is it art? Or is it an incredibly high minded practical joke from the mind of an anarchic madman who wandered out of some of the most prestigious music programs in this country and just ran wild? Perhaps the more important question is, can it be all of the above? It almost goes without saying that writing about The Black Record has been infinitely more enjoyable than actually listening to it, but that doesn’t make the album any less important, nor does it necessarily mean that droning into a speaker for 23 minutes isn’t music of some sort.

Turning now to another who combines music and art (though makes something much more easily definable as “music” in the process), we look now to Collin’s pick for this week, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The album is Dylan’s second, but the first composed entirely of songs he wrote himself, and thus effectively the debut of perhaps the greatest lyricist of all time (to be fair, he wrote two songs on his previous self-titled album, but as it had sold 5,000 copies when this follow-up was released, this is more realistically his songwriting debut). Bob Dylan’s greatness has been explored so widely and written about so thoroughly that it seems a waste to try and add much to the cacophony of praise that has been rightly heaped on him over the last 50 years. I think we can all agree that Bob Dylan is one of the all time greats (except for my father, who prefers the soothing beats of Phil Collins and the dance tunes of Donna Summers, and who once entered my car while I was playing “It Ain’t Me” and politely asked me what the hell I was listening to and if I could please make it stop) and so I will spend little time on the legacy of the legend, and instead focus on the album that is arguably his inception as one of the masters of his craft.

Dylan became a prolific songwriter in 1962, after moving in with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo in January and beginning to spend more time with her and her strongly left-wing family. During the writing of Freewheelin’, Rotolo was studying art in Italy and continuously postponed her return home in spite of long letters Dylan wrote to her (she eventually returned in January of 1963, and the two were together for long enough to take the picture that became this albums cover before she left him, claiming he referred to her as his “chick” and she felt more like a groupie than an equal). He began recording what would become Freewheelin’ on April 24, 1962, but was developing as a songwriter so quickly that he recorded 14 songs in those April sessions (some of which were covers) and only one would eventually go on to find a place on the album, albeit in a different form.

The album opens with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” one of Dylan’s most celebrated and enduring songs, a powerful protest that asks questions about our efforts to find peace, avoid war, and ensure freedom for all. Ranked #14 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, it has been covered by Peter, Paul and Mary; Judy Collins; Etta James; Duke Ellington; Neil Young; Marlene Dietrich; Bruce Springsteen; Elvis Presely; Stevie Wonder; and Joan Baez. Oh yeah, and it’s pretty great, too.

“Girl from the North Country” is a beautiful, ethereal, and nostalgic ode to a lost love written about an ex-girlfriend of Dylan’s while he was traveling Italy, looking for his current girlfriend, Suze Rotolo (who had actually already returned to the United States as he arrived in Italy. Oh, how I don’t pine for the days before e-mail). Dylan borrowed lyrics from the English ballad “Scarborough Fair” (later covered itself by Simon and Garfunkel), including the refrain, “remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine." The next song, “Masters of War” is a scathing anti-war song and Dylan’s personal protest against the arms buildup of the Cold War.

“Bob Dylan’s Blues” introduces Dylan’s satirical surrealism, riffing on conceptions of folk and blues music with a bit of absurdist humor thrown in for good measure. “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” is a complex and powerful song built on a question and answer refrain, one of Dylan’s most complex songs and one that would become considered an anthem of the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the fact that Dylan wrote the song before the crisis began and it was released after the crisis had ended. Dylan once claimed that, “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs, so I put all I could into this one.” That mentality might explain why it is often associated with the anxiety and apocalyptic despair that surrounded the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it also made for one of Dylan’s greatest compositions.

“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Dylan’s half nostalgic, half ambivalent kiss-off was written when he thought that Rotolo was going to stay in Italy indefinitely and might never return to him. As such, it recounts the end of an affair, and the protagonist’s attempts to convince himself that he is fine with thoughtlessly parting ways. “Oxford Town” is Dylan’s cynical, sarcastic take on the events at the University of Mississippi in September 1962 when Air Force Veteran James Meredith became the first black student to enroll. “Talkin’ World War III Blues” was a spontaneous composition Dylan created in the studio during the last session for the album. Dylan recorded just five takes, without having written anything, and just let loose on his fears of nuclear annihilation, the apocalypse, and the merits (or lack thereof) of therapy, all with dark humor that keeps the song from receding too far into pitch black nihilism.

Bob Dylan is credited with bringing intellectual ambition to popular music for the first time. In that way, he possibly invented the concept of the “idea band” that I previously (maybe) coined, paving the way for any artists who wanted to communicate a political or philosophical message with their music. Needless to say, Dylan’s influence is gigantic, with figures as large as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Brian Ferry, Nick Cave, Cat Stevens and Tom Waits claiming him as a great inspiration to them. If you're curious how far his influence reaches, just youtube ANY of the songs I've talked about today and try to find a version that isn't someone covering the song. Trust me, it isn't easy.

Dylan pioneered the combinations of diverse musical genres, but at the dawn of the ‘80’s, The Cars continued the trend, becoming one of the first bands to merge the new synth oriented pop that was becoming popular (with the help of Devo and Gang of Four, Ashley’s last two picks) with the more standard guitar oriented rock of the previous decade. The Cars emerged from the early New Wave scene in the late ‘70’s, and released their second album, and Ashley’s pick this week, Candy-O in 1979. The opening track and the album’s first single, “Let’s Go,” tells the story of a 17-year-old girl whose budding interest in something called “the nightlife” is not strong enough for her to acquiesce to accompany the song’s narrator on a date.

“It’s All I Can Do” aims to combine the ideas of romantic pop music with a more classic rock sound. “Double Life” attempts the same, with a pop sound and a refrain sung by the whole band, combined with a classic rock guitar solo. “Shoo Be Doo,” at a slight 1:36 feels like a brief interlude in which The Cars allow the sound of their contemporaries like Devo and Gang of Four to overtake their attempts to combine synth sounds and rock intentions. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the album in sound or context and seems instead to reveal The Cars anxiety that they are stuck between the more traditional music of the past (implied in the ‘50s callback of the title) and a futuristic sound they are unsure they can master. The song ends with a plea for someone to “just tell me what to do!” The album’s title track is more of a standard rock song with a darker, less pop influenced feel.

So what is music, then? Is it a way to forward ideas? Is it a way to combine melody with thought, or failing that, noise with a powerful notion? Is it a way to look forward, or a lens through which to analyze the past? Is it a document of our time, or just a source of mindless entertainment? In short, music is all of the above. At its best, music can present a coherent view of the world, presenting a new idea or allowing listeners to relate to a universal experience. It’s inevitable that we will return to this question, and examine others over the course of this year, but for now, suffice to say that music is melodious meaning, one of the greatest tools we have to communicate something as powerful and intangible as emotion, or as bold and innovative as a political, artistic, or philosophical movement. More than any other medium, music can make us feel and understand things that would otherwise remain ever elusive, and can bring us as thinkers, dreamers, and lovers, closer together than anything else.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:

We’ll take a look at the only band to appear with a different album on all three lists in an all Talking Heads edition, examining the importance of the band through analysis of More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, Remain in Light, and Speaking in Tongues. Everything will not be “same as it ever was.”

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 11: Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning

I think 30 Rock is at its best when its taking on absolutely ridiculous aspects of pop culture and exploiting them for their lunacy. The show doesn't do so well with the political satire, or with the building of actual emotions (though its been trying that more this season, and its worked out from time to time) but throw some of Hollywood's weirder corners at the show and it will turn them into some of the most brilliant absurdity in recent memory.

Tonight's episode doesn't reach the heights of the show at its absolute best, but a 30 Rock when two of the three plotlines are solid is bound to be a pretty damn good episode. The A-plot focuses on a Tracy-Liz conflict we've seen a billion times before (and I have no idea how the show is still coming up with new ways for Tracy to be insanely lazy and yet still making them funny) with a new twist: Tracy can't come off as his usual crazy self because Angie's new reality show is filming him and he wants to look professional so he can win an Oscar (and thus elevate himself to a new level of crazy and buy an island). This leads to some pretty excellent Tracy craziness, as well as an escalating battle in which Tracy comes up with increasingly insane ways to keep his behavior from being shown on television (including singing everything to the tune of "Uptown Girl" and saying things from behind a mask with copyrighted material all over it).

The B-plot follows Jack in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of celebrity fundraisers in the wake of tragedies by pre-taping one for the next disaster so he can beat all the other networks and get all the ratings and cash for NBC. Including a hilarious Robert De Niro cameo that posits he's secretly British and ending up with a fantastic mix up that has NBC raising money to rebuild Mel Gibson's island retreat where Jon Gosselin was a guest.

In this week's failed plotline, Lutz pretends to have a car to win the favor of the writers, all in a parody of reality television that is about a quarter as funny as the A-plots take on the way the shows are produced and edited. No one usually likes Lutz, so of course he treasures their approval, but the whole thing plays out very predictably and without the absurdity that makes the other two plots work.

This wasn't the best 30 Rock of the season, but it was a very, very funny one that took on reality television and the cynicism behind celebrity telethons in its signature clever style with enough madness. When it was on, it was hilarious, and when it stumbled it recovered quickly. The show attacked celebrity self-righteousness and cynical networks, silly reality shows and Tracy's insanity, and it included an excellent meta gag on emotional resolutions to boot. Yeah, it was a solid week.

Grade: B+


-"Why does the warden let Lady Extravaganza have so many spoons?"

-"That island he wants to buy is filled with scorpions."

-"Perfection is my middle name. Unclaimed Perfection Baby Boy."

-"No I wasn't going to buy two blimps and crash them together to see what sound they make..."

-"Fantastic Jenna. You really brought the song writing computer's words to life."

-"I'm going to Tupac's house to shoot gnomes!"

-"Your online romance prank was not funny. I fell in love with you!"

"G'Day. First off, he Holocaust never happened..."

-"It was our highest rated show since that episode of SVU where the detectives watched American Idol."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 13: Celebrity Pharmacology 212

Community gets a lot of mileage out of mocking and subverting sitcom tropes. The show alters or comments upon cliches, and generally makes meaning where there is normally just overwrought story points that have been done to death. "Celebrity Pharmacology 212" didn't really mock or subvert any of the tropes it traded in. Instead, it just told a story we'd seen many many times before in pretty straight fashion. The lame "Drug Free" presentation the characters are forced to participate in. The one friend loaning the other friend money and then using that to extort favors out of them. The friend texting another friends love interest and ending up in a wacky situations. This episode didn't have a lot to offer by way of originality. And when a sitcom is telling a pretty conventional, overdone story, the only thing it has to rely on is its characters.

Fortunately, perhaps Community's best asset is its characters and their well drawn, believable relationships and interactions. The usual "the gang is forced to participate in the show" contrivance, which can derail this type of episode from the start, is bypassed by how realistic it is that the gang would reluctantly do the show as a favor to the overachieving, hyper-motivated former prescription drug addict Annie. The "friend loans other friend" money plotline is as old as television itself (a similar plotline is the center of several I Love Lucy episodes), yet the Pierce and Annie relationship is one the show doesn't examine too often, and both of them came to the situation in a realistic way.

Pierce continues to be probably the saddest character on a show filled to the brim with them, as tonight we learn that in his childhood, his father refused to cast him as his son in a moist towelette commercial, and he has been craving the attention of a crowd ever since. Back in the series' second episode, Pierce paid Britta for the chance to win Jeff's respect, so it's well established that he is willing to use his financial superiority to extort his friends. And it has been well established this season that Annie lives in a terrible neighborhood, and could probably use a little money. So sure, I would have preferred not to see Pierce extort his way into a more prominent role in the show because he'd given Annie money, but at least it made character sense. And at least he used his role to make all of the kids in the audience want to take drugs.

The Pierce and Annie storyline plays out entirely in well known plotlines, yet it still gives us a window into each of the characters, both reminding us what we know about them and giving us a little something new. One of the things I enjoy most about Community is the way it handles character development. Its characters have all by this point admitted that they'd like to be better than they are, but that doesn't win the battle for them. Every week one or more of these characters comes up against one of their flaws, and more often than not, they fail to improve. This week, Pierce steals the show and alienates his friends, again and Annie holds herself to a standard she cannot possibly live up to, and tries to breach her ethics just a little before it spirals completely out of control. But by episode's end, the two are friends again, because, as Pierce says, "You and I are alike. We're independent. We need each other."

The B-plot in which Jeff texts "Marcus" for Britta and ends up causing her nephew to lust after her was for the most part a bust. It was obvious, overdone, and added pretty much nothing to the Jeff, Britta, or Abed dynamic. What it did do, and successfully enough to get some laughs out of me, was have Britta's 14-year-old nephew fall in love with her. I kind of hope this comes back. But then again, I kind of plan to forget this pretty bad subplot ever existed.

Finally, I think it would be exaggerating to call the Chang and Shirley story a C-plot, but it provided for perhaps the best character moments in the episode, and the only parts of it that didn't feel cliche. I am really enjoying the way this show is dealing with the pretty serious implications of Shirley and Chang's dalliance. Many shows have thrown accidental pregnancies in before, but I can't recall one that dealt with it as well as this show has so far. Chang is an absolutely ridiculous character most of the time, but the show very rarely gives us a reminder that he is also a very sad character, and his desire to at least be recognized as a human by Shirley (and his willingness to be pelted by baseballs to save the group he is now a member of) both reminded me how great Community is at grounding its characters in realistic pain and sadness, and made me wonder if the show has a new angle for this Shirley pregnancy story that might turn her away from her ex-husband. The more I thought about that storyline (which I kind of bagged on last week), the more I realized that it could possibly be used to show Shirley and her husband trying for a second chance, affirming the show's main theme, and yet I wonder if the show may be slowly making Chang the kind of real character that Shirley could come to respect, and possibly even be interested in (to be clear, I don't think this will happen. My point here is just that I think the show is good enough at characterization to pull something insane like that off realistically enough to make me cheer for it).

This was perhaps the most straight forwardly cliched and overdone episode the show has done yet, and I hope its a far outlier from anything else the show has coming. Yet even in an episode full of overwrought tropes that just didn't work for me a lot of the time, the show managed to pull out some real character moments and remind me what about it I really love. In an episode heaped with things I didn't like, Community was still full of characters I love, and still had them interacting in real, and sometimes meaningful ways. Even on an off week, Community will keep me coming back.

Grade: B-


-"Does marijuana make people work faster? I thought it just made people custom paint their vans and solve mysteries."

-"How come he gets a front stinger?"

-I liked the police lights flashing outside Annie's window. That is a terrible neighborhood, and a great running gag.

-"That's my landlord, and if he wanted to rape you, you'd be raped!"

-You save your eggs for a rainy day."

-"I'm here. Zabadazoey!"

-"What does this symbol mean? Its a number eight and an equals sign and a greater than symbol..."

-"Are you ignoring me because I'm Korean?" "You're Chinese!" "There's a difference?"

-"I'm flying higher than I ever have, thanks to not drugs..."

-"Did someone say crazy person?" "No." "Well I heard it."

-"I'm gonna wear your little brother's skin like pajamas!"

-"By the way, your Mom is the period fairy, right?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chris' Comics Corner

Thundersnow is making the lights flicker. I love you all so much that I'm writing this column instead of watching all the cable I can before the inevitable brown out hits our block, and my housemates and I are forced to amuse ourselves with what promises to be the world's longest ever game of Marco Polo. So here we go.

Fantastic Four #587
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Johnathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting

Johnathan Hickman has a plan.

In a week where I bought over ten titles, this was the big one. So big, that it shipped a day early. So big that The AP and Marvel's "brilliant" (what's the point of shipping the issue in a sealed black bag if you're going to spoil it in a press release before the stores open?) PR department. So big that even though I guessed correctly who would die at the end of the ominously titled '3' story arc, I still found myself reading the issue on the edge of my seat.

If you had told me years ago that the most foreboding and tense title on the stands would be Fantastic Four, I would have laughed in your face. I'm a big fan of these characters (especially since Mark Waid's run), but those are not words that I readily associate with this title. And if you had told me that the title could do this while still maintaining the sense of dysfunctional family and daring adventure that has been the lifeblood of this title since the very beginning, I would have laughed until I cried.

The concluding chapter of '3' saw most of the family separated from each other and facing dire crises with millions of lives and whole worlds at stake. It is to the credit of this creative team that each character seemed to be in genuine peril. The actual death sequence is handled so well that even the harshest critic of deaths in comics will be forced to acknowledge its resonance. The hero's end is fitting, heroic, and beyond tragic. And if that final page doesn't just rip your heart out, I would suggest paying some sort of shaman to tell you where your soul got off to.

When Marvel announced that Dale Eaglesham would be stepping off this title, I was crushed, but now I feel like only Steve Epting could have drawn this arc, and only Steve Epting can illustrate the adventures of these characters going forward. His art is dark, but filled with wonder. His characters are gritty, but expressive and warm. He is a masterful storyteller and he should be applauded as a detail man on the level of Bryan Hitch. If you don't believe me, just look at the pages where Johnny, Ben, and the Future Foundation are facing off against the Annihilation Wave and be amazed.

Hickman himself realizes what an asset he has at his disposal. There is no unnecessary dialogue on the issue's final few pages. He lets his creative partner do the lion's share of the work. What little dialogue there is in this sequence is necessary, nuanced, and says volumes in just a few carefully chosen words.

Hickman's Fantastic Four is a masters class in intricate planning and thematic storytelling. It wasn't readily apparent at first but now it is clear, there has been no "throw away" issue, no 'throw away" sequence, no "throw away" cameo, everything, EVERYTHING has mattered, has been a part of Hickman's grand and masterful design. Hickman's run has drawn on these characters entire rich history, reignited the sense of wonder, excitement, and exploration that seemed to disappear from the title years ago, and injected an unprecedented level of darkness and tension into the book. And as a result, Marvel's first family has been painfully pushed to the top of the list of comic's highest quality titles.

This issue was a tragic. It was the end of one of Marvel's first super heroes. It was the end of the Fantastic Four. Everything has changed. And I for one can't wait to see what happens next. Because Johnathan Hickman has a plan.

Grade: A

Captain America #614
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Butch Guice

I hate to say it, but I've been a little disappointed by this title recently. The "Trial of Captain America" arc has been decidedly lacking in trial as of late. And maybe I'm in the minority here, but I would really have preferred to see the court room drama play out in full. Instead, Sin, the new Red Skull, forces Cap to make a choice that brings the actual trial to a an abrupt close and damns his chances of being legally absolved of the crimes he committed while brainwashed to be a Soviet Super Agent. The issue, isn't so much bad as it is disappointing, eschewing a tense legal drama in favor of what Im sure will be an excellent fight scene, but lets face it, for super hero comics, it's business as usual.

Grade: B-

Teen Titans #91
Publisher: DC
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Nicola Scott

Ever since Geoff Johns left this title, the book had been in creative upheaval. It seemed like every few issues the team roster changed, or a new writer came on board with a "bold new direction." All of these directions seemed to miss two key concepts. This title should be fun, and these characters should want to be around each other. By embracing these two simple principles, J.T. Krul has achieved a quality 180 and put this title back on track to the heights it achieved under Johns.

This issue sees the team (one that is thankfully once again boasting an A-List roster: Superboy, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Raven, Ravager, and Damien Wayne's Robin. This group actually FEELS like the Teen Titans.) facing off against a trio of high school students who have been altered by a mysterious new adversary. However one of the empowered students, the one who was most ostracized and beaten down in high school has decided he's had enough, and goes berserk.

The idea of a high school outcast snapping and lashing out at his tormentors is well tread ground that is often handled in a really cheesy manner, however J.T. Krul sticks the landing, making the antagonist believable and more importantly doesn't force you to roll your eyes every time the character speaks. I like that Kid Flash and Raven were instrumental to achieving victory. Bart has really grown as a character, and J.T. Krul is emphasizing how much of an asset someone with a photographic memory who can read at super speed can be. And the scene where Raven cuts loose really emphasizes the vast darkness within her and the power she wields. I also really like the budding friendship between Ravager and Damien Wayne as these two really are two peas in a pod.

There's also a very nicely handled moment at the end of the issue where Superboy and Wonder Girl make a decision about their relationship. Teen romance in comics is often handled with a healthy dose of melodrama and very little rationality. However here, while both characters want different things, there both have mature and understandable motivations. The fact that they react to the break up sad, but amicably makes them more likable as protagonists and invests me more in the characters than an overblown fight followed by issues and issues of pouting and pining ever would.

Nicola Scott is fast becoming one of the best artists in DC's stable, and I'm terrified she's going to be pulled off this book in favor of a more high profile assignment. Her style is clean, expressive, and adds flourishes of body language that add whole layers to the scenes. I'm specifically referencing a scene from last issue where several characters were fiddling with their costumes before entering battle. This detail humanizes the characters and reminds us that even as super heroes they still struggle with the same insecurities all teens have (I think we can all remember being young and stressing over making sure an outfit looked just right. Or was that just me?).

With the first story arc concluding this month, I can safely say that after years of uncertainty and painful creative missteps, this title is finally in good hands, and I for one hope that we have many more stories to look forward to from this top notch creative team.

Grade: B+

Where Do We Go From Here?

I had a hard time deciding what to write about for this feature this week. A lot has happened recently that I could write about: Joe Quesada stepping down as EIC of Marvel, the announcement that for the first time in over a decade the flagship X-Title would be written by someone who is not a "big name writer", or even DC's Iconic Cover Initiative. Some of these things, especially Joe Quesada's legacy, I fully intend on addressing in time. However when I really sat down to start writing, I realized that the thing that was most weighing on my mind was the closing of Wizard Magazine.

Wizard Magazine was the most mainstream source of print comics journalism in existence. Comics journalism is an odd mix of real journalism, hype, and propaganda. And for many years Wizard Magazine was the go to source for it.

Sure I stopped reading the magazine a long time ago. It's expensive and over time the coverage left more and more to be desired. I could get better comics news faster from websites like and

However Wizard played an essential part in shaping my tastes as a young comics reader. It always pushed me to try new books and helped me to keep tabs on those I wasn't able to afford.

To this day I enjoy looking back at my old copies of Wizard, especially the Summer, or New Year preview issues, to remind me what were the hot titles of the time, and what who were the most anticipated creative teams. I like to read what was being said about certain title and reflect on whether these books lived up to the hype or fell flat in the execution. Wizard is a condensed record of some of my fondest comics memories.

The Magazine will continue in a digital format, but that's really not the point. With the death of the print edition, at least for now, there really is nothing else like what Wizard was. Maybe that isn't a bad thing, as the magazine was really in decline near the end. However the nostalgic in me will miss being able to hold that thick, glossy collection of hyperbole and insider information in my hands.

Or maybe I'm reacting to something else entirely. As more and more titles are being offered in digital format, is the end of Wizard a portent of the death of physical comics in favor of cheaper digital versions? Only time will tell.

Read more Chris' Comics Corner here

Chris' Comics Corner: Archives

For ease of navigation, below you will find a collection of the past installments of Chris' Comics Corner. Enjoy!

June 2, 2011

May 19, 2011

April 28, 2011

April 7, 2011

March 30, 2011

March 24, 2011

March 17, 2011

March 11, 2011

February 17, 2011

February 10, 2011

February 3, 2011

January 27, 2011

January 20, 2011

January 13, 2011

January 6, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Random Pop Culture Top Ten List: Top 10 Scientologists We're Willing To Forgive

by Jordan and Sam

Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) weekly list in which Jordan and Sam take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

Scientology is an insane "religion". According to its tenets, we are all immortal and only die because we've forgotten this. It also teaches that Earth was the center of an alien genocide and that we are now all filled with alien souls that must be removed by paying the church vast sums of money. Also, for good measure, it was invented by a science fiction writer who notoriously said that if you want to be rich invent a religion, it rejects all notions of psychology, and it keeps its actual beliefs hidden from members until they ascend to high enough levels to hear the shit the "Church" is shoveling and not break out in laughter. And yet, in spite of all of this madness, scientologists run rampant throughout Hollywood. Whenever we hear that someone we like is a scientologist around Review To Be Named, we're immediately disappointed and inherently think less of the person. Here, however, are ten people awesome enough to allow us to look the other way:

10.Jason Lee

Over the last couple of years Jason Lee has fallen out of favor with many of his fans thanks to his tepid television career playing Earl of "My Name is Earl" notoriety and now some detective on TNT or is it USA? It's all the same. But before that he was a darling of the Kevin Smith cult. He's appeared in Mallrats, Dogma and Chasing Amy to just to name a few. He's earned major cred by starring in The Incredibles as Syndrome. Anyone who's cool enough to hang out with the Pixar folks can't be that insane, right? So we'll give Jason Lee another shot even though he's a nutty Scientologist.

9.Candice Bergen

She may believe that aliens are inhabiting her skull, sure, but Bergen is also a class act and a first rate comedienne. While she has turned in solid work in Carnal Knowledge, Starting Over, and Gandhi, she is also part of what made Miss Congeniality a vaguely watchable movie. On the television side is where she really shines, though, winning 5 Emmys and 2 Golden Globes on Murphy Brown and turning in a stimulating, scintillating, hilarious and shockingly sexy performance as Shirley Schmidt on Boston Legal. She has also done memorable guest star work on Seinfeld (playing herself on Murphy Brown), Sex and the City, Law and Order, Will and Grace, and House. But most importantly, she plays well with Muppets, and we just can't stay mad at someone like that.

8.J.J. Abrams

Some people may hate the creations from the mind of JJ Abrams, but one thing's for sure--he's very good at what he does. Whether it's masterminding a genius marketing campaign for a pretty shitty movie (Cloverfield), rebooting a beloved franchise without compeltely alienating a base while still allowing newbies into the club (Star Trek) or creating one of the most watched and water cooler worthy shows ever created (Lost). Sure he's dabbled in Scientology, but how could we not forgive someone who gave us Desmond and Penny, Simon Pegg as Scotty and the world's most famous smoke monster? Today, Abrams remains one of the most powerful producers in the industry and hopefully he'll have some cool television and movies in store for us.

7.Will Smith

Perhaps the most beloved Scientologist, he is certainly the biggest box office draw. He pulls in probably upwards of around $20 million a picture. But that's not why we could forgive him for his Scientology connections. Nor is it becasue he's unleashed his children on Hollywood. For our money he's been in some great blockbusters like Independence Day and Men In Black. Sure it seems like he has a propensity for alien flicks (Welcome to Earf!) but he can also act when he feels like it as he's received critical acclaim for playing that homeless dude in The Pursuit of Happyness (We can't forgive that spelling though) and Muhammed Ali. Hopefully Smith can take on some more serious roles in the future because, seriously, he needs to make up for that whole Willow and Jaden thing.

6.William S. Burroughs

That Burroughs rejected all organized religion later in his life helps us to forgive him for his time working with thetans, though he still called the teachings of Scientology "highly valuable" until his death. What really allows us to turn our heads the other way when he goes in for some auditing was his literary work, most specifically Naked Lunch, his subversive, graphic, obscene and sometimes nauseating look at addiction and human degradation. Burroughs weathered an obscenity trial (which he won) and gave the world a lasting and realistic look at the depths of the addicts soul and at the darkness and moral depravity that lies at the outskirts of our society. At the end of the day, the book is more important than the man, but the power of his work is so striking that we're willing to ignore the whole "crazy religion" aspect of his personality. Or at least forgive him for it.

5.Jeffrey Tambor

He may have some very strange beliefs, but at the end of the day, Jeffrey Tambor is just too damn funny to hold it against him. And while City Slickers, There's Something About Mary, Eurotrip, Hellboy, and The Hangover all show off his chops to varying degrees, he really shines in his extended roles on The Larry Sanders Show and most especially on Arrested Development. Being involved in arguably the greatest sitcom of all time is enough to be forgiven for pretty much anything (we let Will Arnett's involvement in the genocide in Darfur slide, didn't we?), and Tambor's work as the selfish, oblivious, horny and desperate patriarch of the Bluth family was always top notch. He was so hilarious that his character, who was originally supposed to appear only in the pilot and on a very recurring basis thereafter was added to the main cast immediately. Basically, if you make us laugh enough, we'll let pretty much anything slide.

4.Leonard Cohen

The pride of Canada, Leonard Cohen is truly one of the all time great singer-songwriters and also a famed poet. His music has been covered by scores of other musicians with the most popular one being "Hallelujah" which any artist worth their weight has coered at some point in their careers. It's truly a beautiful song. It's one of many, wee just wish most of them hadn't been written while he was a Scientologist. But he's not anymore and his music is timeless and can be found in many a movie and television show. Don't think we won't post that song:

3.Jerry Seinfeld

Following the Jeffrey Tambor Principle that comedic skills let us overlook a lot of wrongdoings and missteps, we can't very well hold Jerry Seinfeld's Scientology against him (especially since he claims not to be an adherent, despite continuously taking classes in Scientology and defending it whenever he's asked by journalists). The man was a visionary stand-up comedian who made observational comedy the thing for several years. Beyond that, he was instrumental in the creation of one of the best sitcoms of all time, the eponymously named Seinfeld, and was its most underrated cast member during the show's legendary 9 year run. He was never the strongest actor, but his ridiculous reactions and straight-man capabilities kept the lunacy going on around him in perspective. His stint on the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm also reminded us just how much we liked Jerry and how great his chemistry with Seinfeld co-creator and head writer Larry David continues to be even a decade later. Sure, we have to ask, What's the deal with Scientology? But we're betting he'll give us a pretty funny answer to the question.

2.Neil Gaiman

The premier fantasy writer of our time, Gaiman transcends the usual low brow strictures of the genre and turns in brilliant, fully realized and thought provoking work on a regular basis. His books American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Stardust all play with the genre in interesting ways, and his short children's novel Coraline stands up to the work of Roald Dahl for sheer creativity, verve, and a refusal to talk down to children. But the crowning achievement of his career is Sandman, his epic comics series that along with Allan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is credited with raising the quality of comics and giving them artistic merit for the first time in their history. Sandman is philosophically fascinating, brilliant, intricate, sprawling and flat out phenomenal in its exploration of the nature of mortality and grapples with whether anyone can ever really change. Before Sandman, people scoffed at the notion of a "serious, adult comic." After it, DC Comics created the Vertigo imprint for adults only, and many people (including a few of us here at Review To Be Named) ignored the distinction of comic entirely and placed Sandman among our favorite books of all time. After writing that masterpiece, Gaiman could believe that the world was going to end in 2012 and we'd still forgive him for it.

1.Nancy Cartwright

The news that Cartwright was a Scientologist hurt many Simpsons fan. When news surfaced she had recorded phone messages in her patented Bart Simpson voice to try and sell the wacky cult to people, we were downright angry. But whe is Bart Simpson, the character that has brought millions of Simpson fans joy throughout the years. To her credit, she is also a fantastic voice-over artist who has worked on many cartoons over the years. I guess that may be more to the credit of the fantastic writers on the show over the years, but Cartwright gets a pass for being a part of the creation of one of television's greatest characters.

Read more Random Pop Culture Top Ten List here

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sam's Review: Parks and Recreation, Season 3 Episode 1, "Go Big or Go Home"

The last few months of television have been particularly frustrating because Parks and Recreation, which made its triumphant return last night, was pushed aside for the not-so-shockingly lazy, Outsourced. Parks and Rec proed to be my favorite comedy after its air tight second season. Picking that over Community should speak very much to just how big a fan I am of the show. Characters and storylines became fully fleshed out and made me not only care about these people but it made me laugh out loud more than anything else.
In the long awaited season 3 premier, we are first met with an awkward "Last Time On Parks and Recreation..." which had I not just rewatched season 2 (thanks Netflix!) I may not have minded so much. It felt like all the great characters and storylines were summed up so quickly it did them no justice. Of course, this may be the first time many Office fans checked out the show.
The show also reintroduced all the storylines and characters to not only those who were new to the show but to those who had not treated themselves to another viewing of last season. After the government ceases to be shut down, we get Leslie Knope going around to the old gang (minus Mark Brandanowitz) letting them know that "they're back" (works on two levels y'see?) The best moment in this cold open had to be Leslie throwing Jerry's painting into a lake. Glad to see everyone still irrationally hates Jerry still.
The A story for this week, had Leslie construct a plan to get some of the Parks Dept.'s funding back, using Anne who is apprehensive about going out with new full-time cast member Rob Lowe who controls such things. The best surprise is how Lowe's character has beccome more than a two-dimensional positive thinking guy. He has a sad story about how he had a rare blood condition and shouldn't even be alive. His positive outlook seems less like a weird cartoon character and more like a real person. Anne falls for this too and actually begins to like the guy. Of course Leslie and Ben (played by the newcomer Adam Scott) muck it up and let it slip that it's all to get the Parks some more room in their budget. Anne seemed to clear things up with Lowe but we'll have to wait and see how things work out for them down the road. This is my favorite Anne relationship so far already beating out the questionable one she had with Andy in the first season and the flavorless one with Mark in season 2.
The B and C stories I felt were a bit flawed. We get Ron FUCKING Swanson back but as a rec league coach with Andy. Since they're just two teams they look like they'll only be playing each other. Tom plays ref even though he clearly has zero grasp of the rules. We get some Ron Swanson gold (The pyramid of Greatness and the Bob Knight sweater/chair throwing) but not much else from the others. Tom is pissed that Ron is dating his ex-fake green card wife. I felt like these characters were pushed into a situation that didn't really fit them at all and they had nothing to really do.
The C story really bugged me only because I need to see Andy and April together. OK so Andy kissed Anne at the end of last season but I wished they had gone in another direction with April. Couldn't she have just been mad instead of grabbing a model from Venezuela? Maybe I just envy that guy. I think Andy will get her back if his first attempts were any indication, he'll try VERY VERY hard. Overall I'm really just glad to see the gang back together but I think season 2 will be very difficult to top. This episode felt like it was a get-to-know-you episode and wasn't catered so much to the hard core fans. Hopefully it'll get Parks and Rec get the fourth (third full) season it deserves.


Some notes:

-Sorry for such a recap heavy review, sure this won't be an issue for next episode.

-Here's Ron's Pyramid of Greatness

- Rob Lowe nails that "Anne Perkins!" finger point. It has somehow become sweet rather than bizarre.

-Wondering when Leslie and Ben fuck already. Any guesses by which ep number? I've got six.

-Andy with his hair matted down to impress April was adorably sad, the flowers didn't help either.

-Did I mention that chair throw, that was awesome for fans of the Knight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Three

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“Warhol’s brutal assemblage—non-stop horror show. He has indeed put together a total environment, but it is an assemblage that actually vibrates with menace, cynicism and perversion. To experience it is to be brutalized, helpless—you’re in any kind of horror you want to imagine, from police state to madhouse. Eventually the reverberations in your ears stop. But what do you do with what you still hear in your brain?”- Michaelo Williams of Chicago Daily News on The Velvet Underground and Nico

“When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.”-Sam Phillips, record producer noted for “discovering” Howlin’ Wolf

“Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you, but I know it’s only lust.”-Gang of Four, “Damaged Goods”

How the hell do you write about one of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll, produced by one of the few bands that can arguably attain the title of The Great American Rock Band (and one of the few that has, without a hint of sarcasm, been referred to as “The American Beatles”)? In order to even attempt to capture the titanic power and influence of The Velvet Underground & Nico, Tab’s pick this week, I am going to try something heretofore unheard of here at (the admittedly still in its infancy) My Year in Lists. Rather than write about a select few songs off the album (that would be completely impossible here; where would I even begin to cut songs from the discussion?), I’m going to just write about every single track. Were this any other album, the exercise might get tedious, but so much went into the production of this album, and so much has come out of it, that any other strategy would be a failed attempt to capture its majesty. So prepare yourselves, folks, because this installment is going to be a rollercoaster ride through the entire album, with loops thrown in courtesy of Howlin’ Wolf and Gang of Four. If this installment seems overly packed with references to Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums” and “500 Greatest Songs” list, well that’s just because all three of the albums we will examine today have been hugely influential to music.

The Velvet Underground, named after a book about the secret sexual subculture of the early ‘60s written by Mike Leigh, was managed at the time of their debut album by a little known figure of the avante garde art movement named Andy Warhol. Unfortunately, Warhol’s experimental style, avante garde films, and paintings of pop culture ephemera such as Marilyn Monroe and a Campbell’s Soup Can never gained him much notoriety, and I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard his name before (isn’t sarcasm just the bee’s knees?). The Velvet Underground became the house band at Warhol’s hangout The Factory and for his Exploding Plastic Inevitable show, which toured the country in 1966 and 1967 showcasing the band, Warhol’s films, and performances from regulars at The Factory. Before they were discovered by Warhol, the band played its first gig (which paid them only $75) at Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey where they opened for The Myddle Class. Percussionist Angus MacLise left the band before this gig, believing they were selling out (because, I’m sure Lou Reed and John Cale planned to take that $75 and buy fur coats and sports cars and then just fill a swimming pool with the rest and bathe in it). Guitarist Sterling Morrison remarked at the time that “Angus was in it for the art.” Surprisingly Angus didn’t die of starvation, and actually played with the band again on a temporary basis when Lou Reed was unable to perform.

MacLise was replaced by Maureen Tucker, who played drums using mallets as drumsticks, and, during one show when her drum set was stolen from the stage, played on garbage cans brought in from outside (I guess the band had squandered too much of their rich payoff from that Summit High gig to have a backup set laying around). When Warhol took over as manager he suggested (some would say strongly insisted) that the band feature his protégé Nico on several songs.

At the time of its release, The Velvet Underground & Nico was noted for its overt descriptions of drug use, prostitution, sadism, masochism, and sexual deviancy. In other words, this band definitely wasn’t The Monkees. The sound of the album was heavily influenced by John Cale (who played electric viola, piano, bass guitar, and something called celesta, because, you know, he could) who was in turn influenced by his work with La Monte Young (who we’ll discuss next week). The opening track “Sunday Morning” was actually written on a Sunday morning (for verisimilitude, I guess) and was written at the suggestion of technical producer Tom Wilson, who thought that the album needed another song with the potential to be a successful single. Noticeably more lush and produced than the rest of the album, it was clearly an afterthought—on the album’s final master tape, “Sunday Morning” is actually penciled in above “I’m Waiting for The Man.”

That song, which is pretty explicitly about lead singer/songwriter Lou Reed’s attempt to purchase $26 worth of heroin at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street in New York, notably includes a barrelhouse-style piano in addition to the band’s standard guitar, bass and drums and was ranked #159 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time.” “Femme Fatale” was written at Warhol’s request about another Factory favorite, Edie Sedgwick. “Venus in Furs,” which follows it was inspired by the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel of the same name, and like the novel, includes explicit references to sadomasochism, bondage, and submission.

“Run Run Run” was written by Reed on the back of an envelope on the way to a gig (Lou Reed was pretty much the Abraham Lincoln of ‘60s avante guard rock and roll songwriters) and details a number of characters living in New York City, all of them on an endless loop of using and seeking drugs, and also features an incendiary guitar solo by Reed. “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which became Warhol’s favorite song, is based off of Reed’s observations of the Warhol clique hanging around The Factory at the time he wrote the song. It was also one of the first pop songs to use a prepared piano (intertwining a chain of paper clips with the piano strings to change their sounds). It further features the Ostrich Guitar, invented by Reed which is played after tuning every string to the same note. The song also inspired a music festival (surprisingly called All Tomorrow’s Parties) in East Sussex, England which focuses on post-punk, avante garde, and underground hip hop (more on that in a bit).

“Heroin,” the next song on the album and the opener of Side B on its initial release is an epic depiction of heroin use and abuse, as well as its effects on the user. Included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” and ranked at #455 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” the song features a gradually increasing tempo that mimics the high that goes along with drug use until the song ends in a frantic crescendo. Lou Reed has stated many times that the song does not advocate drug use, but that it was written as an objective description of the topic and aimed to be balanced without taking a moral stand (though perhaps saying that he feels “just like Jesus’ son” might have pushed some listeners in one direction). Reed was often disturbed when he was approached after shows by fans telling him they “shot up to ‘Heroin’” and eventually he became hesitant to play the song for much of the band’s later career.

“There She Goes Again” borrows the syncopated guitar riff from Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” though Reed admits he was influenced more by The Rolling Stones cover version. “I’ll Be Your Mirror” was actually written about Nico and is a tender and affectionate song, a marked contrast to some of the album’s darker tracks (I’m looking at you, “Heroin.” And at you, “Venus in Furs.” And at you, “The Black Angel’s Death Song.”). “I’ll Be Your Mirror” ended up being the hardest song on the album to record as the band wanted Nico to sing it with slender delicate vocals and she continuously sand it louder and more aggressively. The band made her do it over and over again until she burst into tears. Then, as Sterling Morrison recounts, “we said, ‘Oh, try it just one more time and then fuck it—if it doesn’t work this time, we’re not going to do the song.’ Nico sat down and did it exactly right.” The band enjoyed that final version of the song so much that even after Nico left the band in 1967, live performances were always done with Reed imitating her accent.

“The Black Angel’s Death Song,” coming next as if the band was afraid we would get too comfortable in the wake of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is written seemingly from the perspective of the Angel of Death as he philosophizes on life and death. “European Son,” the closing track, is the longest song on the album, clocking in at nearly eight minutes. The song was dedicated to Reed’s literary mentor Delmore Schwartz because it had the fewest lyrics on the album and Schwartz notably detested rock and roll lyrics.

A famous quote attributed to both Brian Eno and Peter Buck states that although hardly anyone bought The Velvet Underground & Nico, (the album peaked at #171 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart) everyone who did started a band. The band influenced David Bowie, REM, The Cars, The Strokes, and Beck, as well as creating the sound that would become noise rock and grunge decades after this album was released. Every album The Velvet Underground recorded is included in Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” with The Velvet Underground & Nico being ranked #13 and called “the most prophetic rock album ever made.” The magazine also ranked The Velvet Underground #19 on their “100 Greatest Artist of All Time” list. All of this makes me feel slightly better for writing 1,800 words about them.

Howlin’ Wolf (born Chester Arthur Burnett) is one of the most influential blues singers in history, popularizing the idea of blues rock and setting off a trend that would blossom into rock and roll as we know it (artful segue, right?). At 6 feet, 6 inches and 300 pounds, Wolf cut an imposing figure, which he often used to add to his characterizations on stage. Unlike many blues musicians, after leaving his impoverished childhood behind, Wolf remained financially successful for the rest of his life. This may be due at least in part to the fact that (also unlike many blues musicians, and really, musicians in general) Wolf avoided alcohol, drugs, gambling, and “loose women.” He was also functionally illiterate into his 40’s before going back to school to earn his GED and study accounting to help with his career. Really, the perfect storm of not dying bankrupt.

His self titled second album, Collin’s pick this week, is ranked #223 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list, and the magazine called the album “an outrageous set of sex songs written by Willie Dixon,” Wolf’s long time writing partner who authored all but three of the tracks on the album. “The Red Rooster” uses slide guitar accompaniment and shows off Wolf’s strict attention to phrasing and note perfect skill for milking nuance from lyrics, is listed as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” and was later covered and popularized by a little bang called The Rolling Stones.

“You’ll Be Mine” is a slickly paced come-on song, rolling and confident both musically and lyrically. “Little Baby” is another great example of Wolf’s seduction style, which seemingly pretty much involves telling the object of his desire that she will be engaging in intercourse with him. Apparently that worked for the guy (though maybe not since he was so keen on avoiding those “loose women.”). “Spoonful” also made The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” list and was ranked #219 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. It was later covered by Cream, The Grateful Dead, and The Who.

“Goin’ Down Slow,” originally written by St. Louis Jimmy Oden in 1941 alternates between sung passages that act as the meditations of a dying man, and spoken passages that seem to be his reflections on life. It was later covered by The Animals, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Huey Lewis and the news and Wolf’s contemporary Muddy Waters, all of whom attributed their desire to cover it on his masterful version. Wolf died on January 10, 1976 and is buried in Cook County, Illinois under a large gravestone with a guitar and harmonica etched into it. The gravestone was allegedly purchased by Eric Clapton to commemorate Wolf’s huge influence. The Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Blues Festival is held each year in West Point, Mississippi as a continuing testament to the legacy of the man who mainstreamed blues and helped created rock and roll.

Gang of Four, which is made up of at least three more people than Howlin’ Wolf (I am on top of it with these segues today!) gained fame for playing a stripped down punk rock with elements of funk, minimalism, and dub reggae thrown in for good measure. Their debut album Entertainment!, Ashley’s choice for this week, is ranked #490 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list and sees the band mixing bass more prominently than in much of rock or punk, a tactic that would become a hallmark of post-punk in the ‘80s.

Named after the political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials who were charged with treason, and whose downfall in a coup was cause for celebration in China as the end of an era of turbulence, Gang of Four quickly gained a reputation as one of the most political, idea driven bands in music (a rep also extended to their contemporaries Devo, who we discussed last week) and this political slant can be seen throughout much of the album. “Natural’s Not In It” acts as a riff on Marx’s concept of alienated labor while “Not Great Men” rejects the Great Man Theory popularized in the 19th Century and claiming that history can be largely explained by the impact of “great men” who influenced the flow of events nearly single handedly. “Return the Gift” focuses the band’s insightful eye on the commodification of leisure and its effects on the deterioration of society (which actually turns out to be a pretty great heady idea to jam to).

“At Home He’s a Tourist” talks about the alienation of the everyman in modern society. The band was invited to perform the song, its most popular to date, on the BBC program Top of the Pops. When the producers heard the line “the rubbers you hide in your top left pocket” they asked the band to substitute “rubbish” for “rubbers” in order to avoid causing offense. Ever beacons of compromise and civility, Gang of Four refused and cancelled their appearance.

When not taking a more political tact, the band often challenges society’s views on love and romance, as in the punk heavy “Damaged Goods” which talks about people conflating love with lust and in “I Found That Essence Rare” about finding an equally cynical person to spend your life with. “Anthrax” finds the band comparing falling in love to contracting Anthrax, and concluding, “that’s something I don’t want to catch.” Gang of Four influenced REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana (Kurt Cobain once remarked that his band started as “a Gang of Four…rip-off.”), Franz Ferdinand, and Bloc Party. In 2005 they played Entertainment! In its entirety live at the aforementioned All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival (I told you it was coming back) as part of the Don’t Look Back series that asks bands to play one of their most enduring albums again live.

As this is already by far the longest installment of My Year in Lists yet, I will keep my conclusion this week short. There isn’t a whole lot to say about these three albums except that each of them is a hugely influential masterwork that changed the course of music forever. Often in this feature, I attempt to contextualize music and explain its power and how it affects various aspects of our lives. These three albums stand on their own as excellent art and communicate more than I could ever hope to the individual bands’ views on life, love, drugs, sex, and music. Preparing to listen to any of these albums, all I can say is sit back and strap yourself in for the ride of a lifetime. It’s always worth it.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:

We’ll examine La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s The Black Record, stop in and say hello to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and take a look at The Cars Candy-O.