Saturday, December 31, 2005

When the Shillelagh
Meets the Hood

Part Three: Shamrocks & Shenanigans

By the time LA's House of Pain entered the hip-hop fray in the 1990s, the idea of a white hip-hop group wasn't as much of an oxymoron as it would've been a decade before. Since then, the Beastie Boys and Third Bass, on the East Coast, had paved the way for this pasty crew of miscreants. On the West Coast, the multi-racial Cypress Hill had followed suit. And no, I'm not about to mention Vanilla Ice... (Whoops!) In any case, despite some surface similarities, none of these outfits were flying the orange and the green.

Enter Erik Schrody, better known as Everlast, who was born on Long Island in 1969. He would eventually end up in LA, where he attended Ice-Cube's alma mater, Taft High School. As influences, he has claimed the likes of Bill Withers, Tom Waits, and Run-DMC. His first official rap move came in 1986 when he joined Ice-T's crew at the age of 17. Four years later, he released his first full-length, Forever Everlasting, on Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate imprint. It was even produced by the man himself. Unfortunately, few noticed. Shortly afterwards, Everlast formed the hip-hop trio House of Pain with fellow Rhyme Syndicate member Daniel O'Connor, AKA Danny Boy, and a gentleman of Latvian extraction, Lior DiMant, AKA DJ Lethal. According to Everlast's website, "[Lethal] was expelled from Jersey City grade-school Yeshiva for flinging yarmulkes like Frisbees down the hallway." (In other words, like the Beasties and Third Bass before them, House of Pain were also part-Jewish.) Signed to Tommy Boy and featuring production assistance from Cypress Hill's Muggs, another Caucasian character, House of Pain released their self-titled debut in 1992. It quickly went platinum. Emblazened with the Guinness-inspired slogan, "Fine malt lyrics," it featured such Irish-centric song titles as "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" and "Top o' the Mornin' to Ya." But the album's biggest hit had little to do with its Irishness. Rather, it was simply the perfect song at the perfect time. Imagine a cross between Naughty by Nature's "O.P.P." and Kriss Kross's "Jump" and there you have it: "Jump Around." The song was even released--on green vinyl, naturally--as a Sub Pop single, featuring Butch Vig's grunge-a-rific "Shamrocks" remix on the flipside.

But let's return to the album's more overtly Irish tracks. It's on these selections where Everlast's lyrical skills come to the fore. So is he saying anything particularly profound about the Irish experience? Not really, but his wordplay is clever and funny, and hip-hop could always use a little humor. In "Top o' the Mornin' to Ya," for instance, he claims, "I may be Irish / But I'm not a leprechaun." I take this to mean, "I may be Irish, but I'm not a fuckin' cartoon." The song also features lines like, "These Irish eyes are smilin' / I'm buck wilin'," while "Danny Boy, Danny Boy" includes the couplet, "I'm clockin' my glock / And I've got my shillelagh." Later in "House and the Rising Sun," Everlast spells out his musical M.O. when he raps, "'Cause I'm a white Irish man with a funk soul." I take this to mean, "Don't let appearances fool you." (Fittingly, the name of the official House of Pain fan club was called Hoods and Hooligans.) As for the samples on their debut, House of Pain, like many of their contemporaries, may have had a whole lotta love for the funk, but it's hard to imagine these cats weren't also brought up on more Leadbelly than jam--just like Van the Man--as the album features an abundance of blues samples from "heads" like Willie Dixon, Albert King, and especially that Morrison favorite, John Lee Hooker.

During their three-album reign as the world's premiere Gaelic hip-hop group, House of Pain were criticized for any number of things. On the one hand, they were too Irish, i.e their Irishness was perceived as a mere gimmick or, as Ira Robbins puts it in his Trouser Press entry on the band, they engaged in "ethnic profiteering." Well, I won't deny that there's some truth to the claim, but at least they weren't extolling the virtues of such faux Irishness as, say, Lucky Charms, Irish Spring, or such masterpieces of Irish cinema as Darby O'Gill and the Little People, the Leprechaun horror series, or Finian's Rainbow, the catastrophic musical that almost destroyed Francis Ford Coppolla's career before he'd even gotten started. On the other hand, House of Pain were also criticized for not being Irish enough, which is to say, they weren't political. But is this really a fair argument? I'm not so sure that it is. While Everlast may have a Sinn Fein tattoo on his chest, which makes it clear that he was at least as pro-IRA as his sartorial soul sister Sinead O'Connor (i.e. "I don't have dreads / I shave my head daily / You call me a skinhead / I call you a pinhead"), why can't a band of Irish "brothers" be a party band as much as a group of any other ethnicity? Because ultimately, that's what they were. Just like their pals in Cypress Hill, they were more about smokin' blunts and sippin' fortys than anything else.

Personally, I was never embarrassed by the way House of Pain wove Irishness into their sound. In fact, I thought it was pretty cool. Rather, it was their machismo, a different sort of Irish stereotype, that could be the real turn-off. There were those occasional lyrics, for instance, like "If your bitch steps up / I'm slappin' the ho" ("Jump Around") and "Excuse me señora / Are you a whore-a / Or are you a lady?" ("Shamrocks and Shenanigans"). There were also lyrics about gats, glocks, and the impressive size of their equipment. And for better or for worse, House of Pain weren't, to quote the great Cheap Trick song, all talk. They were real-life brawlers and got involved in plenty o' scraps throughout their career of both the physical and verbal variety. There was also a weapons possession charge for Everlast in 1993 and a war of words with Eminem in the late-1990s.

In 1994, the group released Same As It ever Was, which went gold, but produced no hit singles, although I would argue that the sublime head-nodder "On Point" deserved better than it got and many fans claim it's their best record. Now it should be noted that there are many things for which the Irish are famous, such as Guinness, Jameson's, and Galway Bay oysters. They are not, however, known for their pizza, but that didn't stop House of Pain and their brawlin' Celtic buddy Mickey Rourke from trying to open up an LA joint called House of Pizza that same year. Alas, the venture was a non-starter as all had criminal records and their request for a liquor license was denied. (And Tupac thought he was a thug!) House of Pain's final full-length was 1996's Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again, which made little impact and the band soon called it quits.

That should have been the end of that, but Everlast--much like his name--would proceed to defy the truism of that great Irish-American scribe F. Scott Fitzgerald when his American life entered its second chapter. First he got started on a solo album, a process which was interrupted when he suffered a heart attack due to a previously undiagnosed defect. He was 29. Fortunately, he made a full recovery. Then in 1997, he took a step few Irish Catholics before him have made, when he converted to Islam (which makes it less surprising that Sinead O'Connor would follow his lead in converting to Rastafarianism a few years later). Everlast claims it was the rapper Divine Styler who turned him on to the religion and assured him that skin color was not a barrier for entry. The long-player he had been working on at the time, Whitey Ford Sing the Blues, was released in 1998 and went triple-platinum on the strength of the single, "What It's Like."

Everlast's other post-House of Pain recordings, which add folk, blues, and country tinges to his basic formula, include Eat At Whitey's (2000) and White Trash Beautiful (2004). I guess, or at least I hope, that Everlast has also read How the Irish Became White as he seems to have an obsession with the word "white." Maybe it comes from years of being described as a "white rapper" instead of, say, an "Irish-American rapper" or even just "a rapper." And the hits didn't end there for Everlast also appears on the mega-platinum Supernatural, for which he and Carlos Santana shared a Grammy Award ("Best Rock Performance by Duo/Group with Vocal") for the song "Put Your Lights On."

The bottom line? House of Pain didn't start a movement when they decided to Irish up hip-hop but, much like the Beastie Boys, they helped to provide a much-needed link between rock and rap and also proved that hip-hop, as a form, was a lot more elastic than anyone could have ever imagined. Consequently, they deserve much better than the "one-hit wonder" tag that has become their legacy. And while I'm at it, they even came up with a response to Vanilla Ice's oft-quoted, much-mocked, "Word to your mother!" It goes, "Yeah, I'm Irish / Word to the Motherland!"



Note: Images from Amazon and Lepconnie.com.

That Girl in a Cole Porter Song and Other Gems From the Screenwriter's Pen

A work in progress, these are some of my favorite movie quotes. Where possible, I've tried to avoid the obvious. Consequently, you won't find "I coulda been a contender" or "You lookin' at me?" here (although I couldn't resist a quote from Taxi Driver). That said, I do love Budd Schulberg and Paul Schrader's iconic takes on wounded masculinity--especially in context. For those lines to really work their magic, you don't just need to conjure up the indelible images of Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in your mind (or on the screen), you need to hear the rest of their dialogue in those famous scenes to really get what they're going on about. On the other hand, I've taken all of these quotes out of context, so if you're the least bit intrigued, I would encourage you to check out some of these fine films.

*****

"The work of the police, like that of woman, is never done."
-- He Walked by Night (1948)

[I think this was spoken by Jack Webb.]

"Men aren't interested in a sheet of virgin-white paper. They want something with writing on it."
-- Careless Lady (1932)

[I think this was spoken by Joan Bennett.]

"Men! You say no to one, and they think you're a candidate for the funny farm."
--Tippi Hedren, Marnie (1964)

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape."
-- Taylor (Charlton Heston), Planet of the Apes (1968)

"I always say the law was meant be interpreted in a lenient manner...Sometimes I lean to one side of it, sometimes I lean to the other."
-- Paul Newman, Hud (1963)

"I want that girl in a Cole Porter song. I wanna see Lena Horne at the Cotton Club--hear Billie Holiday sing fine and mellow--walk in that kind of rain that never washes perfume away. I wanna be in love with something. Anything. Just the idea. A dog, a cat. Anything. Just something."
-- Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon), Save the Tiger (1973)

"One should become a person, like other people."
-- Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), Taxi Driver (1976)

"The critics? I hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?"
-- Sir (Albert Finney), The Dresser (1983)

"Ordinary fuckin' people--I hate 'em."
-- Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man (1984)

"If you toy with me, I'll burn you so bad, you'll wish you'd died as a child."
-- Sgt. Maj. "Dick" Dickerson (J.T. Walsh), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

"This is a complicated case, Maude. A lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous, a lot of strands to keep in my head, man. Lot of strands in old Duder's head."
-- The Dude (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski (1998)

"Sooner or later, Mr. Fowler, one has to take sides."
-- Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) to Michael Caine, The Quiet American (2002)

[Indecisive people get on my nerves.]

"Cats live in loneliness, then die like falling rain."
-- Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space (2002)

"I believe the killing of fluffy creatures is never justified."
-- Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

"'Fear Eats The Soul,' there's more truth in that title than most whole films."
-- Naomie Harris, Tristram Shandy (2006)



Quotes about the movies/movie life.

"I believe in suffering in abject luxury."
-- Laurence Harvey (1928-1973)

"American cinema is not the enemy. It always brings you surprises. Because it is cinema, it can't be the enemy. But it takes up too much space. It gets bigger and leaves less to others.''
-- Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (2002)

"Film is lies 24 times a second."
-- Errol Morris

[Morris goes Godard one better.]

"One tender moment's reprieve from loneliness can illuminate a life."
-- Stephen Holden on Brokeback Mountain (2005)

"I'm a good actor for me as a director because I do everything I tell myself to do."
-- Tommy Lee Jones on The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2006)



Endnote: 1956 photo of Jack Lemmon with Rita Hayworth and Robert Mitchum from the BBC. Image of Errol Morris and Ricky Jay (Deadwood) from the official Morris website. For my favorite general quotes--lit quips, et al--please click here. For my favorite "Black Irish" quotes, this space is the place. Wanna contribute a quote to my collection? You know what to do.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

List: Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Top 20

"If you can't feel the music on this album, then you must be a dead ass!"
-- Sharon Jones, "Soul Sister #1," on Naturally

Without any further ado, here are my top 20 albums for 2005. It should go without saying, but just in case it doesn't: Down with major labels, down with over-production, down with music by committee! And while I'm at it, down with stylists! Any artist who can't dress themselves has no place on a list of mine. (No doubt Ms. Jones selected those five-inch glitter heels all by her lonesome--and more power to her!) So here's to the artists who write and perform their own material or, as in the case of the Detroit Cobras, music of their own choosing, performed in their own style. And that, for me, is the key word: Style. Some folks got it, some folks don't. These folks do.

2005

1.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Naturally (Daptone)
2. MIA - Arular (XL Recordings)
3. The Dirtbombs - If You Don't Already Have a Look (In the Red)
4. Animal Collective - Feels (Fatcat)
5. The Ponys - Celebration Castle (In The Red)
6. The Kills - No Wow (Rough Trade)
7. Roky Erickson - I Have Always Been Here Before (Shout Factory) [Anthology]
8. The Deadly Snakes - Porcella (In the Red)
9. The Detroit Cobras - Baby (Bloodshot)
10. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
11. Spoon - Gimme Fiction (Merge)
12. Fiery Furnaces - EP (Rough Trade)
13. Annie - Anniemal (Big Beat/Atlantic)
14. Scout Niblett - Kidnapped by Neptune (Too Pure/Beggar's Banquet)
15. Sons & Daughters - Repulsion Box (Domino)
16. Scritti Politti - Early (Rough Trade)
17. Danger Doom - The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph)
18. Seu Jorge - Cru (Wrasse Records)
19. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador)
20. X-ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents (Castle/Sanctuary) [Reissue]


Runners-up:
LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (Death From Above), Benjamin Biolay - A L'Origine (EMI) [France], Keren Ann - Nolita (Metro Blue/Blue Note), Lady & Bird - S/T (EMI) [France], Nouvelle Vague - S/T (Luaka Bop), Various Artists - Nao Wave (Man Recordings) [Germany], the Slits - Cut (Island/Koch) [Reissue], The Brian Jonestown Massacre - We Are the Radio mini-album (TeePee), Shivaree - Who's Got Trouble (Rounder), Robyn Hitchcock - Spooked (Yep Roc), The Skygreen Leopards - Jehovah Surrender EP (JagJaguwar), Jack Nitzsche - Hearing is Believing (Ace) [Retrospective], Lady Sovereign - Vertically Challenged EP (Chocolate Industries), and Calexico - Convict Pool EP (Quarterstick/Touch & Go).

Here are my top 10s for the past two years:

2004

1. The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (Fat Possum)
2. A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder (Matador)
3. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
4. Camera Obscura - Underachievers Please Try Harder (Elefant/Merge)
5. Clinic - Winchester Cathederal (Domino)
6. The Beta Band - Heroes to Zeroes (Astralwerks)
7. Keren Ann - Not Going Anywhere (Metro Blue/Blue Note)
8. Benjamin Biolay & Chiara Mastoianni - Home (Virgin) [France]
9. The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade)
10. Gomez - Split the Difference (Virgin)

2003

1. The Dirtbombs - Dangerous Magical Noise (In The Red)
2. The White Stripes - Elephant (V2)
3. Holly Golightly - Truly She Is No Other (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
4. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)
5. Benjamin Biolay - Negatif (Virgin) [France]
6. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Pig Lib (Matador)
7. Broadcast - Ha Ha Sound (Warp)
8. Quasi - Hot Shit (Touch & Go)
9. Various Artists - City of God [original soundtrack] (Milan)
10. The Clientele - The Violet Hour (Merge)



Note: Images from Daptone Records and the AMG. The links above point mostly to my Amazon reviews. Unfortunately, I'm unable to link to the reviews I wrote for Resonance (because they're not online) and Tablet (because it's defunct).

Friday, December 09, 2005

When the Shillelagh
Meets the Hood

Part Two: I See
Irish People

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site--man, I hate that word "blog"--lately I've been working on a paper about the influence of black culture on Irish music (and by extension, film). The following are a list of quotes I hope to integrate into the piece. If you know of any good ones you don't see here, please feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment. Also, if you can recommend any good reading materials, please give a shout. I'm just about to get started on Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White.

*****

“Before our merciful intervention, the Irish nation were a wretched, indolent, half starved tribe of savages, ages before Julius Caesar landed on this isle, and notwithstanding a gradual improvement upon the naked savagery, they have never approached the standard of [the] civilised world.”
-- The London Times (1847)

"No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs."
-- Title of Johnny Rotten's autobiography (1994)

"No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs."
-- Title of Lord John Taylor's autobiography (2004)

[Taylor is the first black member of the House of Lords.]

"The Irish are the blacks of the UK, and Dubliners are
the blacks of Ireland. So say it once, lads, and say it loud,
I'm black and I'm proud."
-- The Commitments (1991)

[Thanks to Tom Keogh; I think Robert Arkins was the speaker.]



Andy (Tim Robbins): "Red. Why they call you that?"
Red (Morgan Freeman): "Maybe it's because I'm Irish."
-- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

''I'm not Irish. I'm from the Brick City--Newark, New Jersey--
and don't pinch me on the butt if I'm not wearing green.''
-- Shaquille O' Neal (2003)

"It seems there are Irish people everywhere--
or at least people who want to be."
-- Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby (2004)

[No wonder he won the Oscar!]

"Despite the fact that many people resented the treaty he negotiated [the Anglo-Irish Treaty], the fact that Ireland is
now the wealthiest country in the EU is testimony to his perseverance and belief in his cause... And if there's no
Guinness in Heaven, then I don't see the point in going."
-- Mick Collins on Michael Collins (2005)



Endnote: Image of Collins from the official Dirtbombs site. The piece I mention above is currently on hold. Although I recently added a post to my site about That Petrol Emotion, I haven't had time to write about Thin Lizzy and Sinead O'Connor. As for Lizzy, I think I'm gonna wait till I've absorbed three of the many Lynott bios out there. I have two already, but I'm still looking for an affordable copy of My Boy, Philomena Lynott's book.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Here's the Beef

DVD Review: Peter Spirer, Beef, QD3/Image Entertainment

Got a beef? Well, you've come to the right place! Somewhat misshapen, but inherently compelling, Beef could as easily have been titled The Battle. Released in 2003, the dramatic doc offers a lively look at great rap battles throughout hip-hop history, starting with Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee and ending with 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. Directed by Peter Spirer (Rhyme and Reason) and produced by Quincy Jones III (QD3), Beef is endorsed by his famous father, whose plea for peace concludes the film. Other participants include Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Common, and Treach (Naughty by Nature).

The first third, which outlines the top battles, is the most dynamic. After that, the film spends too much time on some battles, not enough on others (the legendary "Roxanne" beef, for instance, is only mentioned in passing). Part of the problem may be that the early rappers, like KRS-One/Boogie Down Productions ("South Bronx") and LL Cool J ("To Da Break of Dawn"), are so charismatic, while many of the modern day battlers, like the members of Mobb Deep and Murder, Inc., featuring the knife-wielding Blackchild (who stabbed 50 Cent), have replaced weapons with words--possibly because their pens don't carry the same weight.

The turning point, naturally, is the battle between Ice Cube and NWA. It was followed, in short order, by the apocalyptic Tupac vs. Biggie battle, which involved some of the same personnel, like NWA's Dr. Dre, who went on to form Death Row Records with the (truly) criminal minded Suge Knight. And the fun that was part of the early battles was gone. As Busy notes, he and Moe Dee are still friends--in fact, they always were--even if the latter won that particular war of words. (The fun footage of Busy from Wild Style reminded me that I still really need to see that film.) Beef is narrated in an effectively low-key style by Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Don King: Only in America) and was followed by two sequels, which cover some of the infamous battles not included in the first, like Eminem vs. the Insane Clown Posse.



Postscript: Image from Amazon. Thanks to Gillian for passing this disc my way. While I'm at it, here's a list of the hip-hop-related reviews I've written for Amazon: Outkast - "B.O.B." / "Ms. Jackson" (DVD single), Ruff Ryders [with DMX, Eve, et al], Murda Muzik [horrible home movie from the Mobb Deep crew], Cypress Hill - Smoke Out, Run-DMC - Greatest Hits, Suge Knight on the Real Death Row Records [amateurish vanity project], Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel [also directed by Spirer], Tupac Resurrection [surprise Oscar nominee for best documentary], Biggie and Tupac [must-see Nick Broomfield doc], Scratch [Doug Pray's DJ-oriented follow-up to Hype!], The Freshest Kids - A History of the B-Boy [these are the breaks!], Lyricist Lounge - Hip Hop Video Classics, Style Wars [Henry Chalfant's graffiti classic], Bomb the System [fictional take on the graffiti life], Public Enemy - Live at the House of Blues and It Takes a Nation: The First London Invasion 1987 [live precursor to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back], Def Poetry - Season One [hosted by Mos Def], Freestyle - The Art of Rhyme, Xzibit - Restless Exposed, Pimp My Ride - The Complete First Season [hosted by Xzibit], and "X to the Z" pal Eminem - Presents the Anger Management Tour. After reading through a few of these reviews, especially those written between 2001-2003, I'm embarrassed to admit that some of them are pretty weak, but I think I've gotten better at writing about hip-hop since--hey, I've only had five years of practice!

Saturday, December 03, 2005


When the Shillelagh
Meets the Hood

Part One: Green-Eyed Soul

A self-described "little guy" (1967's "The Story of Them"), Northern Irish singer/songwriter George Ivan "Van" Morrison was born in Belfast in 1945. His Scottish father was a dock worker who played music on the side, his Irish mother was a jazz singer, and their home was filled with blues recordings. As Morrison once quipped (Mark Prendergast, Isle of Noises, 1989), "Some people are brought up on jam, I was brought up on Leadbelly and heads like that." (He wasn't, incidentally, raised as a Catholic or a Protestant, but rather a Jehovah's Witness.) Morrison began his music career by playing in skiffle groups at the age of 11 and dropped out of school at 15 to join the Monarchs, a successful live act on the European circuit. After the Monarchs ran their course, he formed Them in 1963 with a revolving door of Irish musicians and the occasional British session player.

Them's first recording success was a cover of Mississippi bluesman Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," released as a single in 1964. It hit the top 10 in the UK and remained on the charts for nine weeks. It is, in my opinion, one of the best blues covers you could ever hope to hear. And a lot of people got to hear it. According to John Tracy (Them Featuring Van Morrison, 1987), "Blighty's all-important television pop show Ready Steady Go adopted 'Baby' as its theme song." Spare, seductive, and completely groovy; it's got the feel of the blues and the spirit of the punk-rock yet to come (Morrison, by turns, makes love to his microphone and spits the lyrics into it). Two minutes and 46 seconds later, it's over. Not one wasted note or gesture. No drum solos, no gospel choirs--none of the excess that would turn blues-rock into a bloated mess, until the White Stripes, Mr. Airplane Man, the Black Keys and others reinvented the form, yet again, in the early-2000s. It would not, however, be Them's biggest single. That would be 1965's "Here Comes the Night," a top five hit in the UK. Interestingly, it was not written by Morrison--or any member of Them--but by American producer/songwriter Bert Berns (originally for Britain's Lulu, whose version stalled at #50).

Around the same time, UK groups like the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Pretty Things, and the Rolling Stones were playing the same kind of high-energy, blues-based rock. In fact, that's Jimmy Page behind the snake charmer guitar line for "Baby Please Don't Go" (according to Prendergast, Page is all over 1965's The Angry Young Them and 1966's Them Again). So Them wasn't doing something completely unique, but doing it in Northern Ireland certainly set them apart. Not that there weren't plenty of other "beat groups" in Ireland, like Bluesville (who had a top 10 hit in the US with "You Turn Me On"), but Them quickly broke away from the pack. Another quality that distinguished them from the rest of the mid-1960s blues-rockers, with the possible exception of the Spencer Davis Group's Steve Winwood, was Morrison's soulful voice, which garnered him frequent comparisons to Howlin' Wolf.

In their brief career, Them would go on to have other hits, like the immortal "Gloria," B-side to "Baby Please Don't Go," which would be covered by Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix (who would also produce Irish group Eire Apparent's 1969 release Sunrise), and Van's "soul brother" Jim Morrison. In the Village Voice (Will Hermes, "Apocalypse Then," 11/21/05), on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Horses, Smith claimed she chose to cover the song, sometimes mistakenly credited to the Shadows of Knight (probably due to the fact that their version became a top 10 hit in the US), because, "I like simple, three-chord rhythms. And 'Gloria' is so universal. It's so beautifully chauvinistic, so I decided that I would do the ultimate chauvinistic version."

Van Morrison left Them in 1966, but the group wouldn't officially disband until 1971. As a solo artist, he would increasingly integrate traditional Irish influences into his work, which is to say, lyrics of a more literary bent and more folk-oriented instrumentation--but without completely abandoning his "black" roots. Morrison's first solo single, for instance, the top five hit "Brown Eyed Girl" (1967), was originally called "Brown Skinned Girl," while as Musician's Bill Flanagan has noted (The Bang Masters, 1991), "With 'Come Running' and 'Domino' he'd even work out a way to bring his beloved R&B back in style." Then there's 1993's Too Long in Exile, which consists entirely of soul and R&B covers. That said, the more "Irish" he became, the more Morrison's popularity grew. In 1984, he told Kristine McKenna (Book of Changes) that he abandoned blues-rock--and the rock scene in general--when he realized, "Maybe this isn't really me." And by 1968, the year he made his break, that may have been the case. But between 1964 when Them released "Baby Please Don't Go" and 1967 when he recorded his own unique blues epic, "T.B. Sheets," Van Morrison was as black as a white Irish man could get.



Note: Cover image from the AMG.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Reviews for December

Here's a list of the reviews I worked on this month. More than usual, although most exclusively for Amazon.

Amazon: The Hives - Tussles in Brussels (concert film plus
short documentary, videos,
and TV appearances), Rock Star - INXS: The DVD (musical performances from the reality
TV series), Black Girl / Borom Sarret (feature plus short from Senegal's Ousmane Sembene; I also reviewed Mandabi and Xala), Sandra Bernhard - Without You I'm Nothing, The Cutting Edge - Going for the Gold (remake of the Moira Kelly/D.B. Sweeney ice skating opus), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Oprah-produced TV adaptation of the Zora Neale Hurston novel with Halle Berry), Franz Ferdinand - Live [two-disc set] (two gigs plus behind-the-
scenes look and other extras), The Amazing Race - The Seventh Season [four-disc set] (I also reviewed the first season), Criss Angel - Mindfreak: The Complete Season One [two-disc set], Save the Tiger (Jack Lemmon in his Oscar-winning role; necessary viewing for fans of Glengarry Glen Ross), American Pie Presents: Band Camp (youch!), Empire of the Wolves (with a blond Jean
Reno; from the author of The Crimson Rivers), Saraband (Berg-
man's fine sequel to Scenes from a Marriage), The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder - Punk & New Wave (yay!), Hunter - The Complete Third Season [three-disc set], Nighty Night - The Com-
plete Season One
(pitch-black Britcom; makes The Office look like Touched by an Angel), and The World (old China meets new to tragic effect in Jia Zhangke's latest; first saw it at the 2004 LIFF).



Endnote: Black Girl / Borom Sarret cover image from
Amazon. Oh, and I'm in love with Howlin' Pelle Almqvist.
Search Me!

It's funny, but I've always hated that phrase: "Search me!" Maybe it's because I'm just too literal-minded—no doubt about it, actually, I know I am. So what would you find if you were to really search me? Well, I'll tell you.

Aside from the usual stuff (keys, checks, change, etc.), you'd find a tube of M.A.C. lipgloss in "Nico" (a nice iridescent mauve), a sample-sized vial of Jo Malone Honeysuckle and Jasmine cologne, and a tin of Altoids gum in (artificially flavored) cinnamon. And what does this tell you about me?
Not much, I'm afraid, and that's what I've always hated most
about the expression, i.e. Search me...and you won't find anything of consequence. (I'd like to think otherwise!)

So anyway, every few months I take a trip over to Google to see where my reviews are ending up. This month when I searched using my full name, I got 42,600 hits (when I searched using Kathy Fennessy, I got 16,900; I may go by Kathy, but rarely
write using that name). As I've mentioned before, the vast majority are duplicate entries, although I have written hundreds of reviews over the past few years (but definitely not thousands).

Not counting purely commercial sites, here are some of
the more interesting ones I came across this time around. Incidentally, they're all Amazon reviews. I swear I do write for other publications on occasion—just not as often as I'd like.

Awesome80s.com:
Amazon review of Who's the Boss

Clown Ministry:
Amazon review of The Incredible Mr. Limpet

GreenCine:
Amazon review of Pete and Pete - Season One

iq451:
Amazon reviews of the Slits - Cut and Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Mischa Barton News:
Amazon review of Frankie and Hazel



Movie Tome:
Amazon review of Something the Lord Made

[I find sister site, TV Tome, particularly helpful for research.]

National Society of Film Critics:
Amazon reviews of Happy Endings and Crónicas

[Ah, but I wish I qualified for membership!
There are only 55 writers in the NSFC.]


Poe News:
Amazon reviews of the third and
fourth seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm

Reggae.com:
Amazon reviews of Rebel Music - The Bob Marley Story
and Roots Rock Reggae - Inside the Jamaican Music Scene

[At Amazon, I'm the designated hitter when it comes to reggae DVD reviews—and I'm all for it! This month, I reviewed Bob Marley and the Wailers - Live at the Rainbow, which is packaged with the Marley estate-approved documentary Caribbean Nights. As with the Slits, I just can't get enough of Robert Nesta Marley. That said, Rebel Music is the more honest film as it deals head-on with Marley's infidelities and other issues that the BBC doc elides.]

Wing Chun Archives:
Amazon reviews of House, M.D. and Veronica Mars

[This appears to be some kind of martial arts site.]

Note: Picture of the Slits from the AMG.