Thursday, August 02, 2007
A musical education
I don't have an older sibling and my parents weren't much into rock 'n' roll, so when it came time for me to find out about pop music, I primarily depended on high school friends and books. (Commercial radio, in the late '70s and early '80s, wasn't much help, though I owe a debt to a great college station, Tulane's WTUL-FM.) From the former I learned about the Velvet Underground, the late-'60s Kinks and late-'70s New Wave; from the latter, written by the first generation of rock critics, I found out about "the canon."

There were a number of books in which I immersed myself: the first editions of "The Rolling Stone Record Buyers' Guide" and "The Book of Rock Lists," "Rock Critics' Choice: The Top 200 Albums," a collection of early Rolling Stone reviews called "The Rolling Stone Record Review."

And there was "Stranded," a collection of rock critics' desert island discs, edited by Greil Marcus.

The latter now reads, as Robert Christgau (himself a contributor) observes, like a Rock 101: "Astral Weeks," Phil Spector, "Beggars Banquet," "The Pretender" and a handful of idiosyncratic picks, such as Ed Ward's nod to The "5" Royales' "Dedicated to You" (he picked the same record in "Rock Critics' Choice"). Over the years, as my ears have opened and my collection has grown, I've enjoyed going back to "Stranded," if only to see how far I've come in 30 years -- and to, still, revel in the enthusiasm the writers have for their subjects.

I bring up "Stranded" because there's now a sequel of sorts, "Marooned" (Da Capo, edited by Phil Freeman). Reading over a new generation's desert island discs, I can't help but feel a bit like Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock: "I grow old ... I grow old/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

I mean, I haven't heard of a quarter of these records, and there are several more I question. (Dio? Stereolab? Post-1978 Dionne Warwick?) But then I think: So what? The writing's -- the enthusiasm's -- the thing.

Take Ian Christe on Iron Maiden's "Killers." His essay's first-person protagonist, having come to his desert island equipped with pretty much every record ever pressed (his plane happened to be loaded with a library), has already smoked Boz Scaggs' "Middle Man" LP cover, burned volumes of "Now That's What I Call Music" and used "Southern rap cassingles ... as fishing line." He finds "Killers" and is impressed with its anger, its screw-you attitude. It's not to last -- teen angst never does -- but it makes for entertaining reading.

And there's this: "A favorite album is a choice of a desert island, not the other way around," Christe writes. "Marooned" isn't a best-of list and doesn't pretend to be -- it's an expression of why music makes a difference in our lives.

So, once again, my ears are opened. Perhaps I will, as Eliot wrote (and the Allman Brothers borrowed), "Eat a peach."
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The lights dim
First Ingmar Bergman, now Michelangelo Antonioni. Two film giants, silenced.

A curmudgeonly question: Do people still watch their films? Twenty-five years ago, when I was in college, both -- particularly Bergman -- were Film 101. You couldn't NOT know them. Their very presence was in the movie theater air. (Heck, Woody Allen's 1975 film "Love and Death" is both Russian lit AND Bergman parody. Would anybody even try that now with a major film comedy? Of course, those were the days when Woody Allen was a mass figure -- he was even the star of a comic strip. But I digress.)

Anyway, I can't remember the last time I stumbled over a Bergman film on TV, or heard a joke about him or Antonioni (though I imagine "The Simpsons" must have made a few).

Fortunately, there's always video. I hope people take advantage and rent a few works by both, particularly Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," "Cries and Whispers," "Persona" and "Fanny and Alexander" and Antonioni's "L'Avventura." Which reminds me: One of these days, I may even have to watch Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point" -- if only because the Medved brothers took it apart so hilariously in "The 50 Worst Films of All Time."
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