Friday, March 28, 2008

Making a sizable Dent

Move aside, Ron Paul supporters. A new political candidate has appropriated your campaign tactics of loud street rallies, signs and posters in usual places, and Internet viral marketing. I'm talking, of course, about Harvey Dent.

Over the past few weeks, his grass-roots supporters across the nation have mobilized in the streets in rolling rallies, bringing Dent's message to confused bystanders. In Chicago, a gathering of Dent's campaigners resulted in the police being called out in scenes reminiscent of the Democratic convention riots of '68. (Ok, maybe that's a teensy bit exaggerated.) Maximizing the impact of the Dent surge: a number of billboards have sprung up like Spring daffodils this past week.

But those very Dent billboards were subject to -- literally -- a smear campaign just two days later by some Joker. Detractors, meanwhile, accuse the politician of being a two-face.

Holy smokes, Batman, what is going on here? Only the most exciting viral campaign in recent Hollywood history.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Run from "The Hills"

Unlike Charlize Theron, I'm at least aware of "The Hills," but I must admit that I just don't get it. At 35, it makes me feel old.

MTV's flagship show -- in which Laguna's Lauren (r.) and Heidi, her BFF turned Brutus (US Weekly headline: "How I Was Stabbed in the Back!"), head for Los Angeles and squabble over a boy named Spencer -- returned last night to much media excitement followed by underwhelming reviews. I can't for the life of me understand what is so fascinating about semi-scripted gossip and high school-like soap operatics -- not to mention dialogue where every second word is, like, "like."

But I'm clearly not the target audience. Which is why Lauren works for "Teen Vogue" in the series. And, when I say work, I don't mean the sort of boot-licking boot camp hazing depicted in "The Devil Wears Prada." Entry-level employee Lauren helps brand the magazine to its target demo by picking out outfits -- and modeling them. In Paris.

Suddenly, I'm getting nostalgic for "One Tree Hill" and "Gossip Girl."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Little drummer boys

A friend of mine emailed this week to say that the drummer for prog-druids Mars Volta is the best sticksman he's ever seen in concert -- even better than Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison. (Rock photographer Ross Halfin, who doesn't offer praise cavalierly, is similarly impressed and wrote in his blog, "The new drummer, Thomas, is amazing, as Omar said, he comes from drummer's heaven. Thomas played the most insuperable drum fills with just one hand.")

I've not seen Mars Volta live in concert, so I can't compare notes. But it got me wondering about the best drummer I've ever seen live. And I have to say it's Andy Williams of Doves. (Ok, just kidding -- their percussion may be rather uninventive, but they're still an awesome group.) But seriously, I've been super impressed by Carl Palmer, Stewart Copeland, Zak Starkey (The Who), Sterling Campbell (David Bowie), and Vinnie Colaiuta (but he was just backing Sting so I didn't get to see him play anything as awesome as this).

I never saw John Bonham live, so, if I had to narrow it down to the very best three, it would be:

3.) Wunderkind Keith Carlock of Steely Dan, voted #2 "Best All-Around Drummer" in Modern Drummer's Readers Poll in 2006, and #3 in 2007. Jeepers, talk about a great combination of sheer facility and groove. (Follow this link and watch the video titled "drum clinic solo" at the bottom right-hand corner. The whole thing is great, but the stuff he does after the 4:30 mark will make any drummer throw their sticks into the wood pile next to the fireplace. And check out the tattoo patterns Carlock plays after the 10 minute mark.)

2.) Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree. He never takes a drum solo (though check out his incredible fills at the end of "Hatesong" on the PT live DVD) but he has phenomenal technique and complexity. (Harrison is a pioneer of "rhythmic illusions," a process of "about making small changes to a conventional pattern in order to persuade the listener that the tempo, and or time signature has momentarily changed.") He's heavy! Just watch. That bass-drum work is quite something. No wonder he's been tapped as the second drummer in the current King Crimson lineup.

1) Neil Peart. No question. Gavin Harrison may be more technically adept (though, at their level, it's a bit like comparing Steve Vai and Joe Satriani), but Peart wins out because he is such a musical drummer. And isn't that what it's all about? Go to any Rush gig (or watch a concert DVD) and you'll see hundreds and hundreds of men playing air drums, something you'll never see to that degree at any other concert. Simply, Peart's beats and fills are entirely integral to the music and they each add something to the songs rather than being superfluous or to show off. And when Peart does show off during his traditional drum solo, which is a percussion composition, it's hard not to feel gobsmacked once he starts playing ultra-fast, cross-handed patterns with his eyes closed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke; Anthony Minghella

I haven't read Arthur C. Clarke since I was a teen, but I reveled in "2001" and its three sequels back then. It's astonishing to think that he wrote the first in that series in 1956, a time when travel to the moon was merely the stuff of "Amazing Stories" comics. In fact, the movie version of "2001" -- which Clarke co-scripted -- arrived a year before the first moon landing. It was so ahead of its time that it depicted space shuttles (unfortunately, with Pan Am logos. Hey, not even a visionary such as Clarke could have foreseen the rise of a Renaissance-Man entrepreneur Richard Branson and Virgin's "first airline in space" claim.)

Science-fiction books have never been welcomed by the literati -- despite the genre's mainstreaming in popular culture -- but Clarke was as close as a sci-fi author could get to respectibility in non-geek circles. We'll likely not see the likes of him again.


Anthony Minghella's passing was a shocker. I can't claim to have loved his work, though I have a soft spot for "Truly, Madly, Deeply," a British riposte to Demi Moore's "Ghost." Minghella's pictures always looked great even though I often felt distanced from the characters in films such as "The English Patient," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and "Cold Mountain." But I value Minghella's willingness to take on challenging literary adaptations and hope that his last completed work, an HBO adaptation of the "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" is a fitting swan song to the director's talents.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Raconteurs' racket

Taking a riff from the Radiohead tab book, The Raconteurs suddenly announced they're rush releasing their second album -- completed earlier this month -- into online and brick & morter stores next week. Savvy move. It creates the buzz of an event and also bypasses piracy leaks by not sending out review copies to the press. (The same reasons explain Gnarls Barkley's decision to drop a new album in stores today, 3 weeks ahead of schedule.)

I love the idea of Jack Black and Brendan Benson bypassing the traditional long run-up to a release date by unexpectedly putting new music out there, Trent Reznor-style. But I wish artists would go one step further and consider ditching the strictures of the album format* and return to return to the 1950s model of just releasing newly recorded singles or EPs, as Radiohead and Elbow have threatened to do.

That plea doesn't apply to the diminishing breed of artists who still know how to create tight albums that cohere as a complete whole.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dancing with the "stars"?

With two seasons per year, what will "Dancing with the Stars" do once it has depleted the C-list? The lineup of tonight's season premiere, which includes the likes of er, Penn Gillette and Adam Carolla, is accompanied by the distinct sound of barrel-scraping.

Unfortunately, the stars of the D through F lists have already been monopolized by all the VH-1 shows and Donald Trump's celebrity "Apprentice." Soon, we'll be watching a ballroom matchup between Nancy Kerrigan versus Tony Harding (or, as Bruno Tonioli might to call her, "the axels of evil").