Friday, June 30, 2006

Everything People Say I Am,
That's What I Am: On The Arctic Monkeys, Be Your Own Pet, and The Hype Machine

All you people are vampires
All your stories are stale
Though you pretend to stand by us
Though you're certain we'll fail.
-- The Arctic Monkeys,
"Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But..."

Hype is a funny thing. Or maybe I should say: The way people react to it is funny. Some fall for it, while others run away. But why does it have to be an either/or proposition? That's what I've never understood. Some phenomena lives up to it, some doesn't.

After hearing all the hub-bub about the Arctic Monkeys, I picked up their debut. Guess what? I love it, and I'd be missing out on one of my favorite releases of the year if I'd decided to hold the hype against the British quartet. Whether they helped create it or not is irrelevant. What's more important is whether they live up to it.

Even if they didn't, I wouldn't have known if I didn't take a chance. So, I can understand the impulse to flee, since few artists justify that kind of attention. I just don't like it when people start to badmouth a buzzed-about band before they've even given 'em a listen or tried to figure out where they're coming from.

In the months since the release of Everything People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not--one ace of a title--the backlash against the Monkeys has begun. Everyone seems to agree they rock the house live, but now some are saying the record isn't really that good.

Have they been influenced by the fact that it didn't make the same impact in the States as it did in the UK, i.e. that it's too British? That's what Sasha Frere-Jones suggests in the 6/5/06 New Yorker. He has a point. The CD has sold well, but didn't set sales records here the way it did in Great Britain, which is to say, they didn't become the next Radiohead or Coldplay. Well, the group doesn't seem to care, which just makes me love 'em more.

The first thing I noticed when I popped Everything People Say I Am into my player is that it isn't the world's most original record. The Clash, the Jam, and the Libertines all sprang to mind.

It's too soon to say whether the boys in the Sheffield band are gonna have the same kind of longevity as Joe Strummer or Paul Weller, but their debut is everything (that word again) the Mick Jones-produced Up the Bracket should've been. It's shorter, but there are no duff tracks--unlike the debut from Pete "Babyshambles" Doherty and lads--and the songs scan as well as they sound, i.e. Alex "Memo From" Turner really has a way with words. A very, very British way: Tom Courtenay as a punk, Mike Skinner as a rocker, Ray Winstone as a skinny lad.

Which brings me to Be Your Own Pet (BYOP). Check it: Folks are already throwing around the acronym as if this Nashville quartet were the next BOC. Anyway, after hearing the hype, I caught a few songs on the radio. And wasn't impressed. I thought they sounded like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More to the point, I thought Jemima Pearl sounded like Karen O, although her band rocks harder.

I don't dislike the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, by the way, but nor am I a booster. That whole New New York School of Major Label Rock (NNYSMLR) just doesn't do it for me. If I wanna listen to records by Television or Blondie, that's what I'll do. I don't own any of their recordings; nor do I own any by the Strokes.

So when I put on Be Your Own Pet, I didn't expect to hear something 100% original. I didn't. As with the Arctic Monkeys, it isn't that Be Your Own Pet are doing what's never been done before, it's that they're doing it as if it hadn't.

It is, I suppose, a feel or a spirit as much as--if not more than--a sound. Then again, the group is so young it seems unlikely they've heard all the bands they evoke, everything from Betty Serveert on the gentler tracks to a more metallic X-Ray Spex on the others. Their debut is a short, sharp, energetic little creature.

As with Everything, there's no filler, no wasted space. Yet it isn't a completely straightforward proposition either. "Bunk Trunk Skunk," for instance, which features the ear-grabbing couplet, "I'm an independent motherfucker / And I'm here to take your money" couldn't be catchier, yet ends with a beautiful blast of feedback.

Then there's "Adventure." In a perfect world, the single would be as much of a hit as Bow Wow Wow-by-way-of-the Strangeloves' "I Want Candy." No, it doesn't stomp that hard, but the combination of power-pop hooks and martial drums scratches a similar itch. (One you didn't even know you had till you heard it.)

Two songs later, Pearl is swearing again, Joey Ramone-style: "There's too much shit going on in my brain / Hurry hurry hurry hurry, 'cause I'm going insane." (Yet the foursome never quite conjures up the Ramones.) If she had a darker or more hesitant voice, it might come across as a whine, but because she's so forthright, it's more like a statement or an explanation than a complaint. In other words, this gal ain't keeping it all inside.

I'm not sure what else to say. I could name a few bands who haven't lived up to this year's heaps of hype, but I'd rather not. I'm here to celebrate not to berate. In the end, I'm neither for nor against hype. After all, it brings artists to my attention with which I might not otherwise become acquainted. Then again, as mentioned already, few live up to it. Or they do for only a short while before the rot sets in, because 1) They believe it, or 2) They don't, i.e. they develop an inferiority complex.

The best thing to do, I suppose, is to ignore it. If you're the subject, that is. For the rest of us--the observers, the consumers--I think it's worth tuning into, while taking each artist/album on a case by case basis. For my money, the Arctic Monkeys and Be Your Own Pet live up to the hype. For now. Sophomore slumps may be just around the corner, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

Note: All images from the official Arctic Monkeys and Be Your Own Pet websites--including the Monkeys MySpace page, which sports the slogan, "Don't believe the hype..."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cinematic Status Report

So far this year I've seen 179 films. I caught 63 during this year's Seattle International Film Festival, which ran from 5/25-6/18 (and which I've been attending since 1988, when I moved to Seattle). Press screenings ran from 5/8-6/16, so that's 42 days of uninterrupted filmgoing. This year, I've also watched two dozen films for Amazon reviewing purposes (that number seems small, but it's what my records indicate). Some, like Clean and New York Doll, I'd seen before, but I was more than happy to visit them again.

No one film at this year's fest impressed me as much as Crumb (1994) or Trainspotting (1996), but my favorites were Sketches of Frank Gehry, Pusher II and Adam's Apples (for Mads Mikkelsen, left), I:I, C.R.A.Z.Y., Quinceañera, Wordplay, The House of Sand, Who Killed the
Electric Car?, The Proposition, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Old Joy, We Go Way Back, The Trials of Darryl Hunt, Sa-Kwa (Moon So-ri), Lunacy, Wristcutters - A Love Story, 13/Tzameti, Brothers of the Head, Starfish Hotel, 49 Up, Crime Novel, Linda Linda Linda, The Power of Nightmares, Heading South, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?, Backstage, The Science of Sleep (right), Gravehopping (Gregor Bakovic and Drago Milinovic), Time to Leave, and Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Also, archival screenings The Unknown, Black Orpheus, The Window (left), and The Man Who Cheated Himself.


I realize this list is ridiculously long--it represents more than half the films I saw--but I make no apologies. Several people asked me on closing night if I "had a good festival." The answer is listed above, i.e. YES!

Note: Images from the IMDb and the official SIFF website.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who is Peter Tevis
(And Why Is Bob CumbowTalkin' About Him)?

The following is a portion of an email author and attorney Bob Cumbow sent to a few friends in May. With his permission, I'm reproducing it here, as I thought the information was worth sharing.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
As you might recall, I notified some of you a couple months ago that Peter Tevis--who sang the lyrics to several of the title songs from spaghetti westerns--lives on Mercer Island (who knew?). Tevis was more important to the evolution of the spaghetti western than most people know, because, in 1962, Peter introduced a song to Ennio Morricone. At that time, Morricone had scored two or three films, unremarkably, and was known primarily as an arranger of pop recordings. Peter was a Californian who had come to Italy in order to get "cheap singing lessons," and found himself becoming a sort of small-time celebrity, singing American folk ballads, cowboy songs, and western movie themes for enthusiastic Italian audiences. He had a traveling concert show as well as several hit singles.

Anyway, Peter told Ennio that he wanted to record the song "Pastures of Plenty," one of Woody Guthrie's greatest compositions. Together, they worked out an arrangement. RCA issued it as a 45rpm vinyl single, and it became a big hit. Now you have to listen to that arrangement to really understand this, but with only a tweak here and a shift there, that song and arrangement became the main title to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Minus Peter's voice and Woody's lyrics, and plus Alessandro Alessandroni's whistling. RCA suppressed the hit single of "Pastures of Plenty" and supplanted it with the FISTFUL theme, which became (along with the film) an international sensation. Peter pretty much got screwed, but that early collaboration with Ennio was what created "the sound" that the world now associates with spaghetti westerns and with a "school" of about three dozen composers who worked in Italian film from the peplums through the westerns, through the giallos and the horror films.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Postscript: Knowing this, I made
it my business to seek out Mr. Tev-
is. It turns out he has advanced Parkinson's, and though he is lucid,
he is almost voiceless—a sad thing
to happen to a singer. It was my pleasure a couple of weeks ago to lunch with him and his wife (a charming Thai woman who cooks Italian as magnificently as she cooks Thai), and talk
about his years in Italy and his work in the films of the period.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

That marks the end of Bob's transmission. A search on Pet-
er's name brought up some of the lyrics he has sung over the
years. The following come from Spaghetti Western Lyrics:

Lonesome Billy
From Pistols Don't Argue
Music by Ennio Morricone
Sung by Peter Tevis

Always lonely
Always looking
To get even with the men,
Who did him wrong.
That was Billy
Lonesome Billy
Who was quick to think
A gun could make him strong.
No one tougher or more daring.
Only he and his gun sharing
The great fight to live
And his great love to fight.
A rough man who played with danger,
To whom trouble was no stranger,
Until one day he lay dying.
He'd filled his date with destiny.
Never friendly
Never trusting
Always kept one ready hand near his gun.
That was Billy
Lonesome Billy
The rough man
Who would rather kill than run.
The rough man
Who would rather kill than run.

 Gringo Like Me
From Gunfight at Red Sands
Music by Ennio Morricone
Sung by Peter Tevis

Keep your hand on your gun
Don't you trust anyone
There's just one kind of man
That you can trust
That's a dead man...
Or a gringo like me.
Be the first one to fire
Every man is a liar
There's just one kind of man
Who tells the truth
That's a dead man...
Or a gringo like me.
Don't be a fool for a smile
Or a kiss
Or your a bullet might miss.
Keep your eye on your goal.
There's just one rule
That can save you your life,
It's a hand on your knife
And the Devil in your soul!
Keep your hand on your gun
Don't you trust anyone
There's just one kind of man
That you can trust
That's a dead man...
Or a gringo like me.
Keep your hand on your gun
Don't you trust anyone
There's just one kind of man
That you can trust
That's a dead man...

Or a gringo like me...
Or a gringo like me...
Or a gringo like me... me...

Endnote: Bob Cumbow is the author of Once Upon a Time: The Films of Sergio Leone. Over the years, he's loaned me countless DVDs, videos, etc. Whenever possible, I've tried to return the favor.
Around the Way Girl

James Brown may
have invented funk, but
Sly Stone perfected it.
--Jason Ankeny,
All Music Guide

A few weeks ago, I picked up Sly & the Family Stone's Whole New Thing, which features a hypnotic number called "Trip to Your Heart." Granted, I bought the album mostly for "Underdog," covered so persuasively by the Dirtbombs on Ultraglide in Black, but "Trip" is just as good (if not better). It's also a big part of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," i.e. he borrowed the ascending "Ah-ah-ah-ah" from Stone. The goopy "Around the Way Girl," on the other hand, is my least favorite LL song, but seemed like an ideal subject line for this post.

So, here's what I found when I searched Google using my full name: 90, 200 hits for Kathleen C. Fennessy, 23,800 hits for Kathy Fennessy. Though my on-line reviews are continuing to proliferate, my web presence has been shrinking for awhile now.

I find the phenomenon more fascinating than distressing.
Maybe some of the old sites have disappeared, maybe some
of the duplicate entries have been deleted. I have no explanation, really; just a variety of vague theories. Anyway, I do this every other month or so to see where my reviews are ending up...

The Bear
AMG review of The Screaming Trees - Buzz Factory

The Circle:
Amazon reviews of Style Wars and The
Freshest Kids - A History of the B-Boy

Amazon reviews of La Petite Lili and Solomon & Gaenor

Hot 103:
AMG review of Pussy Galore - Dial 'M' for Motherfucker

Iceberg Radio:
AMG bio of Hammerhead and review of Bar-
bara Manning - One Perfect Green Blanket
Amazon review of Jewel - Goodbye Alice in Wonderland

[When did Jewel, Atlantic recording artist, become "indie"?]
Amazon review of Police Woman - The Complete First Season
Siffblog preview of The NWFF Presents Super Hits, Vol. 10

[Excerpt concerning short film "Foster Island."]

VH1 Shop:
AMG reviews of Lloyd Price - Lawdy Miss Claw-
and Thee Headcoatees - Sisters of Suave

Amazon review of Life and Debt

Note: Image from the official Sly & the Family Stone website. Copyright © 2006 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT. All Rights Reserved. LEGACY and the "L Legacy" logo are register-

Saturday, June 03, 2006

June Reviews

Here are the reviews I'm
working on for this month.

Amazon: Thee Emergency - Can You Dig It?, The Submarines - Declare a New State, McKids Adventures - Get Up and Go With Ronald, Pink - Live in Europe, Winter Passing, Beavis and Butt-head - The Mike Judge Collection: Volume Two [three-disc set] (I also reviewed Volume One), Various Artists - '80s Hits Stripped, Alexi Murdoch - Time Without Consequence, Ism - Monkey Underneath, Madame Curie (Mervyn LeRoy reunites with Greer "Mrs. Miniver" Garson), Mike's Murder (Debra Winger plus Joe Jackson soundtrack), Don't Come Knocking (Wim Wenders reunites with Sam "Paris, Texas" Shepard), Thinking XXX - A Film by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (porn stars on porn stars--metaphorically that is), PJ Harvey - On Tour: Please Leave Quietly, The Rockford Files - Season Two [six-disc set], and Tracey Takes on - Season Two [three-disc set].

Resonance: Lisa Germano - In the Maybe World (less catchy, still compelling), Mika Miko - C.Y.S.L.A.B.F., Broadcast - The Future Crayon (EP tracks and rarities), and an article on Ed Kuepper/the Laughing Clowns in light of the Cruel, But Fair box set.

Seattle Sound: Local/DIY releases by Mike Dumovich (Mesojunarian) and one-man band Pipsqueak (Babydoll).

Seattle Film Blog: C.R.A.Z.Y. and Quinceañera, We Go Way Back (Lynn Shelton's dazzling debut), Me You Them and House of Sand (both by Andrucha Waddington, the former revamped from a previous review), Cedric Klapisch's Russian Dolls, and interviews with Keith Fulton (Brothers of the Head), John Schienfeld (Who is Harry Nilsson?), and Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep). 

Endnote: Images from Young God Records and Thee Emergency
(Ben Curkendall). Singer/smoker/shouter/testifier Dita Vox above.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

SIFF Shorts: Crazy Teenagers

While Siffblog is down, I thought I'd post these re-
views here. You can find revised versions there.

(Jean-Marc Vallée, Canada, 129 mins.)

Funny, moving, and highly tuneful, C.R.A.Z.Y. trumps most
of the gay coming-of-age films that have preceded it. Montreal writer/director Vallée (Liste Noire) pulls off the feat simply by painting an indelible portrait of an entire family, particularly
the relationship between stern father and free-spirited son,
and not just the efforts by the latter to define his sexuality.

He also sidesteps (or at least subverts) many of the clichés that
have hampered the genre. Worth watching for the sequence in
the Catholic Church alone, in which Zachary (Marc-André Gron-
din)—the "Z" in C.R.A.Z.Y.imagines the entire congregation sing-
ing along to "Sympathy for the Devil." Totally transcendent.

In the end, it's their shared love for music that helps the David Bowie-loving Zac and Patsy Cline-worshipping Gervais (the fantastic Michel Côté) weather the storm that is their turbulent family life from 1960 to 1980. One of my favorites of the festival.

Here's a list of the songs featured in the film:

Patsy Cline - "Back in Baby's Arms," "I Fall to Pieces," and "Crazy," Charles Aznavour (and Michel Côté) - "Emmène-moi" and "Hier Encore," Stories - "Brother Louie," Perez Prez Prado, King of Mambo - "Mambo Jambo," Pink Floyd - "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "The Great Gig In The Sky," David Bowie (and

Marc-André Grondin) - "Space Oddity," the Rolling Stones - "Sympathy for the Devil," Roy Buchanan - "The Messiah Will
Come Again," Jefferson Airplane - "White Rabbit," Timmy Thomas - "Why Can't We Live Together," Robert Charlebois - "Tout Ecartillé," Elvis Presley - "Santa Claus Is Back in Town," Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal - "Minuit Chrétien," "Carol of the Bells, and "Del Elisir Mirabile / Elisir D'Amore," and Chorovaya Akademia / Alexander Sedov - "Nine Sili Nebesniye / Ancient Echoes."


(Wash Westmore-

land and Richard Glat-
zer, US, 90 mins.)

The Year of Peckinpah—The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Proposition, etc.—continues with this Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner.

Granted, Quinceañera may not look like one of Sam's films,
but it features one of his favorite actor/crew members, Chalo González (The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), as benificent octagenerian Tio Tomas. The longtime Echo Park dweller takes in 14-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios, left) when she becomes pregnant and her part-time preacher father refuses to have anything to do with her.

Together, Tio, Magdalena, and gay cholo cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia) start to form a family when tragedy strikes again...and yet again. Still, the directors manage to pull a happy—or at least hopeful—ending out of their hat(s). They also gave me the opportunity to have a good cry. Though produced by Safe's Todd Haynes, Quinceañera plays more like a film by Our Song's Jim McKay set to a reggaeton beat. Recommended.

Note: Images from the IMDb. C.R.A.Z.Y. song listing from
the official website. For more information about these screen-
ings, please visit The Seattle International Film Festival.