fjb, local currency: solo 1992-1998 (fayettenam)

the human hearts, civics (tight ship)

the human hearts on myspace

nothing painted blue, taste the flavor (shrimper)

info on older band and solo work; I have no idea who compiled the scarily complete discographies

free music, discography, etc. here

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giving notice

Brave the snow and come out to to The Million Poems Show; this will be my first appearance as regular house-band/banterer. Through no fault of Jordan's, I've forgotten who some of tonight's guests are, but Arlo Quint should be attraction enough; request "Jim Behrle Is My Boss." See "mere appearances" and links therein for time, directions.

Yesterday at Film Forum, as part of a short series of newly unearthed RKO (mostly)-pre-Coders:

Double Harness (1933, John Cromwell). Notable not so much for the marriage-as-a-business storyline (including a subplot involving a wife who's this close to "giving herself" to other men to keep herself in hats) as for a chance to see the utterly reliable William Powell ("an artist in dreadful films" - Manny F.) play against the patrician yet matter-of-fact Ann Harding, a mostly forgotten performer whose acting is fairly low-key for the period, and who has some nice throwaway moments here. ("Don't you love the smell of meat cooking?") Director Cromwell (father of actor James) mostly stays out of the way; no one wil ever claim his as an auteur, but he made a number of films that are better remembered (The Enchanted Cottage, Since You Went Away, Algiers, The Goddess) than his name.

Rafter Romance (1933, William A. Sieter). He works nights, she works days, they're both broke, their landlord makes them share one apartment at different times of day; the meet-cute rom-com is not exactly a recent inventions. Pleasant, but probably not much here except for genre buffs: Lead Norman Foster did nothing for me, Ginger Rogers didn't really find her note as a non-musical actress until the '40s, and although the supporting cast (Robert Benchley, George Sidney, Laura Hope Crews, the great and omnipresent Guinn "Big Boy" Williams) are fun to watch, the story is needlessly (unhumorously) cruel to several characters, especially Crews' pathetic but blameless drunken socieity-lady. Might or might not make it to the remake Living On Love (1937, Lew Landers) in a few hours.

Expect things to return to a more notes-and-jottings format here for the foreseeable future; otherwise, too little will appear here to be of use to anyone us.


dreamers of the dream

I doubt this has exactly been hotly anticipated, but here are some last notes in the general vicinty of Dreamgirls.

10) I might have been more explicit that not everything in the previous post was meant as response to jane's take on the film - or, especially, its songs. Here's a more extended instance of the view that the songs' problem is their failure to be genuine fake Motown. To wit:

Real Motown, first of all, is super tambourine heavy - which does not really match the production styles of American Idol dreck-pop. But most importantly, the melodies and rhythms of the early crossover Motown songs are masterfully simple. The beauty lies in the enormous melodies laid over accessible chord and beat structures. The DG musical composers cannot resist the sophisticated allure of Dmaj9-type over-complex jazz piano arrangements, and subsequently, couldn't write a AM radio pop song to save their lives.

9) Except the composers of the original show could write a pop song, and did. I don't know about radio play specifically, but why does everyone seem to forget that "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" was a #1 R&B/#22 pop single for Jennifer Holliday, who introduced the song on Broadway, in 1982. (I believe the hit version was a re-recording, not the version from the cast album. Seen her Tony performance?) This fact drains some force from the complaint that "a white musical guy" (I'm quoting the linked post again) wrote the show's mere representations of black pop songs. [See also: Lieber/Stoller, Dan Penn.]

[Sidebar: despite my complaints, neomarxisme is an thoughtful blog mostly devoted to very detailed and knowing comments on Japanese popular culture. I am as puzzled as "Marxy's" comment-fields visitor Momus that someone with a pronounced taste for J-Pop would be a source of the above charges.]

8) Can what I meant about the continuity between pop and show music be made any clearer? The fact that I happen to love some of the latter is probably what causes me to make this point, but I think that the claim is true, not an artifact of my biases. Allegedly popist critics had better start figuring out how to account for the fact that shows like Rent and Wicked, apparently Amazon's #39th best-selling CD, have returned the cast album to a profile that it hasn't had since, maybe, My Fair Lady. What surprising is that some of these shows are holding their own or outperforming all but a few (Mamma Mia! of the allegedly people-pleasin' "jukebox musicals." And the audience for this stuff isn't made up of dessicated mandarins: the Wicked fanbase, as I understand it, skews especially young and doesn't have any self-conscious sense of the form's traditions.

7) The other thing none of this has much to do with is the fact that I can't personally bear Wicked, or Rent, any more than the fact that, frankly, I still can't find much in some charting country than shoddy carpentry has to do with the brute fact of its appeal to a non-bohemian constituency. Speaking as a dessicated-mandarin-in-training, though, "My Revolutionary Costume" from Grey Gardens (an uneven but interesting score overall) is more my speed. (Also, this guy's.)

6) Re the Broadway influence on Smokey Robinson and contemporaries: last weekend, Bree and I went to see the cabaret singer Baby Jane Dexter, whose wide-ranging set included (along with a medley of "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Make Believe" from Show Boat) Smokey's "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." Having never attended closely to the lyrics before, I was struck by how tight the rhyming is, and how dependent on two-word rhymes that also serve to keep the tune and stresses precisely the same from verse to verse:

I want to leave you
Don't want to stay here
Don't want to spend
Another day here
Oh, I want to split now
I can't quit now
You've really got a hold on me

This is a device introduced into American pop by Lorenz Hart (writing to Richard Rodgers' music) in the late '20s; in many respects, including the use of a striking, then-contemporary colloquial phrase as an unrhymed hook and the overall sentiment, this song seems particularly close to "You Took Advantage of Me," from 1928's Present Arms. (Smokey's "hold me" bridge, of course, is a whole different bag.) The Supremes, of course, recorded both.

[4, 3, 2 were further comments on the specific weaknesses (and even some stengths) of songs in Dreamgirls, particularly "Move" and "Cadillac Car," (including the section of the OCR that establishes a good deal of the show's argument, which the movie attempts to make that throwaway shot of a record being manufactured do the work of), and the somewhat different problems of the new songs written for the movie, particularly Eddie/Jimmy's "People Get Ready"/"Waiting for the World to Change" bite; a discussion of the deck-stacking the movie engages in viz. the music biz; it's not at all clear why C.C. should be materially as well as "righteously" indignant at the white cover of "Cadillac Car," given that, as songwriter, he should be pulling in publishing royalties, unless he sold himself out with a stupid deal that the plot doesn't tell us about; and an expression of puzzlement that said songwriter figure, supposedly one of the fictional label's driving creative forces, is, as played by Keith Robinson, the most anodyne movie character since the heyday of "second leads." But my interest has waned over the last week, so that sketch will have to do.]

1) I am, of course, curious how some of the above plays out here. I'm inclined to hold Adam Schlessinger to a fairly high-standard, pastiche-wise, as that's supposed to be his selling point; the inclusion of a teenpop song called "Entering Bootytown" bodes ill. (But then, I've been bitter since '92, when his demo-submission for "That Thing You Do" beat out mine.] Curious enough not to wait for it to show up on a plane? Maybe not.

0) Just curious: has anyone ever made anything interesting out of the observation that musicals and animated films are of a piece in being the two long-standing film genres for which the production of the sound-track precedes that of the image-track as a matter of course?


the dream's dream ( be continued)

So, one thing I’ve been intending to do was post something about Dreamgirls (2006, Bill Condon), which I managed to see within a few days of moving here. (Volver too, but it didn’t provoke many thoughts beyond wondering if the direct comments of other characters’ about Penelope Cruz’s breasts are meant to function mythically, like Audrey Hepburn’s jokes about Cary Grant’s chin-cleft [“How do you shave in there?”] in Charade.) On the other hand, something I’ve been trying to do here is keep this blog less reactive and/or parasitic than the last one. Now, with this post of Jane’s, it becomes difficult to fulfill the first intention without tripping over the second.

So be it: much of the below is roughly what I had planned to write anyway, though it turns out to be easier to get traction with something to push off from. I too have noted descriptions of the movie's songs as “inaccurate pastiches of Motown.” But I’m not inclined to characterize those descriptions, or what they assert, as “well-remarked.” I’m inclined to call them “just about wholly irrelevant to the quality of the work, and ignorant - to the point of being culturally blinkered - to the generic assumptions of the American musical.” Pointing out that “Move,” say, sounds like something written by someone who has likely heard and paid some attention to what came out of Detroit in the mid-‘60s, and not like whatever the Motown equivalent of The Rutles would be, is about as critically trenchant as it would be to note that community square dances in 1906 were not usually accompanied by 40-piece orchestras, as they are in Oklahoma!, or that "Miracle of Miracles" is a little brassy for the shtetl. Put another way: is it a problem with animation that Mickey Mouse is an inaccurate drawing of a mouse?

And, as Jane presumably knows, one reason that many of the songs sound like Broadway showtunes is that they are Broadway showtunes – though I would argue with the notion that they are of “no particular provenance, “because even those that do not make overt reference to the styles of popular music relevant to the story are written in a rock-ballad/recitative-heavy musical idiom not much in evidence on Broadway before the ‘70s. (I’m also confused by the notion that the songs are “shot like” a Broadway musical, in that Broadway musicals are theatrical works, not cinematic ones. I realize that some other things might have been intended by this sentence, and that I’m not reading charitably but since we know that Jane, of all people, is capable of distinguishing materially different modes of representation, I read it as symptomatic of a relative lack of interest in those under discussion.)

That ends what I feel like I’m on fairly solid ground in saying. (Except, that is, for the things that I simply agree with Jane about, including the invidiousness of the comparison between the soul and disco versions of “One Night Only”—which one would you release as a single, and, more broadly, between J. Hudson and B. Knowles’ vocal styles.) The more interesting and complicated points involve the following facts:

(1) Dreamgirls is an instance of one of the hoariest and most popular musical subgenres, for obvious enough reasons: the “backstager,” or show about showbiz. See Gypsy, 42nd Street, A Chorus Line. That makes possible a range ways of handling those songs performed diegetically by the characters (i.e., in clubs or concerts), only one of which is to have them perform precisely the material that the characters, were they actual performers, would perform.

(2) In how it employs (and adds to) the show’s music, the movie is not all that faithful to the Broadway show. In this respect, it’s more in line with MGM’s adaptations of stage hits in the ‘40s and ‘50s than with Condon’s previous Chicago. Both approaches have their merits, but in this case, there have been some mistakes in judgment.

(3) Questions of whether theater music “gets” popular music “wrong” or not are, I suspect, predicated on the false notion that the two are discontinuous.

(4) Much of the songwriting is, indeed, poor. There’s no small irony in the fact that Smokey R. and H/D/H likely learned more from Berlin and Porter and Kern and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart, and used what they learned more effectively, than composer Henry Kreiger and lyricist Tom Ewen learned from any of the above.

I’ll try to expand on some of the above with a few specifics later in the week. (Well, the way things have been shaking out, let’s say the weekend.) I probably don’t ultimately think the movie is much better than Jane does, but I do think what there is to say about it doesn’t quite end with the point that it’s a spectacular production burdened with an anti-spectacular thematic freight.

By the way, to anticipate: race, specifically the race of the songwriters, has as much to do with what makes all this interesting and complicated as the race of the persons associated with the publishing credits of “Proud Mary” and “All Along the Watchtower” (I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a guitar mixed that loud on a television broadcast) has to do with the signification of Prince’s covers-of-black-artists’-covers of same a couple Sundays ago.


Denying that representation is transparent doesn't entail denying that it represents.


"In cases of planning, conservation, welfare, and social decisions of all kinds, a set of values which are, at least notionally, quantified in terms of resources, are confronted by values which are not quantifiable in terms of resources. [....] Again and again defenders of such values are faced with the dilemma, of either refusing to quantify the value in question, in which case it disappears from the sum altogether, or else of trying to attach some quantity to it, in which case they misrepresent what they are about and also usually lose the argument, since the specified value is not enough to tip the scale."

-- Bernard Williams, "Utilitarianism"


"We've got to be able to discuss music without instantly confronting the earth-shaking question of whether you LIIIIIIIIKE the music or not, as though being LIIIIIIIKED was music's sole purpose for existing."

-- Kyle Gann, btiching about comment trolls.


Leaving the business completely is one thing, but coming back to do one episode each of Family Ties and Simon & Simon? Every time I run across a list of credits with a gap of, say, 22 years, I wish there were an IMDB-equivalent for stage appearances, as I can't imagine what else could have been going on in those unfilmed decades.


My present state: near-constant amazement at anyone who can do much more than keep functioning. (Read, for everything after "can," "write.")



some links today:

*Great BBC radio show on Chic, inc. breakdowns of the production of "Good Times" and "Le Freak" illustrated by the original 24-track masters. Note to self: try that backwards-and-forward-reverbed-handclaps trick. (Courtesy of Elisabeth Vincentelli, whose Determined Dilettante demands the attention of theatergoers and ye-yephiles alike.

*Also blogging, the excellent accordionist/pianist/composer (I don't know which order he'd want these in) Ted Reichman. He's recently moved from NYC to Boston; I'm hoping to get him up for a few songs at the upcoming Somerville show (left).

*Biz-mag piece on Music Today, which provides branding/web/fanclub services to everyone from U2, Taylor Hicks, and John Legend (himself a former consultant-type) to Dane Cook (this explains a lot, really) and Maria Sharapova - all from a former chicken-pot-pie plant outside Charlottesville, VA.

* Interview with Argentinean conceptual photographer/filmmaker David Lemalas, whose pre-Cindy Sherman self-portrait-as-rock-star (right) was one of the highlights of last weekends trip to the Met, the other being the John Singer Sargent paintings in the "Americans in Paris" show, esp. his creepy, Jamesian "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (above).

*12 hrs., 40 min. down the rabbit hole? Get your tickets. Note that the relevant Wikipedia entry looks pretty solid. Related: 1998 Rivette. (On Les enfants terribles: "And as I was going up rue Amsterdam around Place Clichy, I walked right into the filming of the snowball fight. I stepped onto the court of the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre and there was Cocteau directing the shoot. Melville wasn't even there.") Some connections between Suddenly Seeking Susan and Celine and Julie Go Boating (S. Seidelman's explicit model). And: has anyone read the late Juliet Berto's book?