Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Debunking The Great Gatsby (A School Reading)

I planned on uploading an ungraded essay I did on Lord of the Flies for school until I read it and realized what a soulless document it was; the information ripped straight from the book with no interpretation and the prose as blank as a Wikipedia page. I've realized that I associate school so much with boredom and lack of creativity that any voice my writing might have slips out the backdoor when I enter a classroom. 

My "summer reading" from school of which I was given both Gatsby and The Kite Runner which I'm still yet to read was a little different. I had already bought Gatsby, figuring it would be more logical to read before watching the new film; so as far as I know I've tricked the system and read Gatsby out of the enjoyment of reading a well known classic and not out of graded obligation.

Not that it mattered; my first thought on the way out was how the hell did this ever become a classic? The "introduction" at the beginning of my copy which your not supposed to read until after finishing the book did try and justify the book's classic status. It's a good record of the Jazz Age, apparently, although between the main character's house and the main point of action right next door I didn't really feel like I got a good tour of the decade of parties and excess. The book's only real Jazz Age memento is the character of Gatsby himself. The book was also released as the technology of the world was changing; written in the young Gatsby's diary is a slot made-up for "studying electricity". I was reminded of The Social Network and David Fincher's subtle showing of a world transforming from analog to digital; although Scott Fitzgerald's changing never becomes more than a background distraction. The most obvious of reasons for the book's success, which wasn't immediate by the way, is just the writing and story; it's look at the American dream and the love story at it's center. Not that either add up to much in the end.

Although I did notice something reading Gatsby that none of the other classic books I've read, namely Blood Meridian or counter-culture works like Fear and Loathing, made me think of. I noticed how romanticized these classics become; the image of Gatsby in American culture, of excess and mystery, yet also of inner tragedy and failed love, is a much better image than that of the lifeless and easily explained man you find in the book. There's no meat on the bones of any of these characters, which itself is a plot-point at times; telling of these characters sucked into the material world, seeing someone's worth only in money and stock market value, yet for all of the main characters, the one's who apparently had good (which should mean personality right?) in them, I kept wondering when Fitzgerald would pull me in closer and show me who these characters were. No such reveal ever comes. The blankness of the characters and the world they inhabit seem so white a canvas it's no mystery people decided to add the paint themselves; Jay Gatsby is no real mystery, although the fact Fitzgerald never tells us much about him has made it easier for decades of writers and fans to romanticize the character into a myth that lives more in talk of the book than in any of Fitzgerald's actual descriptions. As goes with the rest of the book too.
For those who have managed to dodge at the very least the outline of the Gatsby story thus far: Nick buys a house at long island, next door to some sort of party-animal who has people stumbling out of his house every night, he attends to find out no-one at these parties knows a damn thing about this Jay Gatsby guy who owns the house, until he meets the man himself to find out Gatsby once loved Nick's cousin Daisy, who is unfortunately now married to smart suited 20s gent Tom, and from there all sorts of heart-warming shenanigans ensue. Tom is the books villain, and the most interesting of all these characters, if only because he is the only one who is fully explained to us. He's a real mustache twirler of a villain; we find him cheating on daisy from the start, and his very presence seems to evoke dread from the other characters. If your like me and your mind implants actors over your imagining of the book (Unimaginative, I know) then you won't have to look far to find some stock-character bad guys to fill in Tom's place; I pictured Billy Zane from Titanic, probably because both characters have no explained reason to do bad, they, both of which from a similar time period and story, are simply villainous because these stories need a villain. Although the book's biggest crime against character is that it never made me car who Nick, the main character, is. Fitzgerald never goes past a quick job description, although luckily Nick, like all other characters, is here to represent only one single dimension, in the same way we have Tom the villain and Daisy our love interest, Nick is our narrator, and it's telling that his complete lack of intervention in the story or any inner conflict still doesn't manage to insight any curiosity into his character. Maybe that's why Gatsby has found such mystique where the other characters haven't; he's the only character who isn't an easily identifiable archetype, instead Gatsby's the sun in the middle of the galaxy, all the other characters revolving around him, the only problem is there's really nothing to Gatsby but his want for Daisy. It feels like there should be a great weight on his shoulders yet he's as light in depth as all of the other characters.

There are themes and big ideas at play here; Gatsby's mysterious past and his fortune which he uses to almost buy the image of a wholesome man, from the outlook surrounded by friends every-night and the striking image of wealth excluding from his suits, yet inside he is damaged, wanting only to rekindle an earlier love. The words American Dream could easily be stamped all over this; because what do people love more in art than showing such a dream gone wrong? Yet Fitzgerald never lets his story settle; Gatsby's story is no rise and fall, instead the exaggerated stories of Gatsby from the people who attend his parties are the closest thing we get to Gatsby being an example of this American Dream fulfilled. Upon meeting Gatsby we are given little time to take in the enigma of his character before his vulnerabilities are chucked in our faces. This is not a big book; 115 pages run by quick, which was of course delight to me so I could move quickly on to books my school wasn't making me read, although this story did feel like it needed to be longer; Fitzgerald neither lets us live in this American dream long enough to be in awe, or takes us into any of the characters headspace's to show us it all fall apart. The paper-thin material and short length leave The Great Gatsby feeling like a slightly extended short story.
In the end I didn't much enjoy Gatsby, as you can most likely tell already, but the simplistic story was serviceable and the symbolism, which if it is to be believed was stuffed into every nook and cranny of 1920s America is so blatantly obvious it's easy to feel like you've been let into the deeper happenings of Gatsby's world. I'll finish on subject of the green light, one of the book's most well known happenings; in which Gatsby looks out over the peer at night and sees a green light in the distance. A beautiful sight, but out of reach (I did tell ya this symbolism was obvious) representing his love for Daisy which even though is now in clear sight has by that point come to be a piece of total fantasy for Gatsby. It's in Roger Ebert's review of Citizen Kane where Ebert writes about said green light. His point is meant to encompass his love of Kane yet it just as easily shows the flaws I found in Gatsby:

"Rosebud is the emblem of the security, hope and innocence of childhood, which a man can spend his life seeking to regain. It is the green light at the end of Gatsby's pier; the leopard atop Kilimanjaro, seeking nobody knows what; the bone tossed into the air in “2001.” It is that yearning after transience that adults learn to suppress. “Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost,” says Thompson, the reporter assigned to the puzzle of Kane's dying word. “Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything.” True, it explains nothing, but it is remarkably satisfactory as a demonstration that nothing can be explained"

Ebert draws a connection between Rosebud and the green light like they are one in the same, just to two different characters. But as the reporter in Kane explains: Rosebud was just another asset of Kane, finding it wouldn't have explained anything to these reporters. Yet if Gatsby was to reach the green light his character would be complete; he would be no enigma or mystery, he would simply be the American dream the people around him think he is. To me the green light symbolized what a fickle character Gatsby is, and in turn the book itself. 6/10

Monday, 22 July 2013

Summer Reviews: The Conformist/Almost Famous/Heathers

I've noticed something recently: I watch a whole lot of movies. I mean fuck, not just a lot or loads, I mean it's summertime and I'm surprised Netflix hasn't crashed yet. Most people will imagine summer as a childhood recall of sun and beach and ice-cream, but for me it's lots of nights filled with movie magic, the days are what's inbetween; and the sunlight hours are there so I can try and make up for being such a nerd; which is a fantastic thing to be by the way. I'm usually watching as many as rewatching but this summer I feel so spoiled for choice that I'm trying to make every watch a first-time viewing, which is probably the reason I feel so behind on my movie reviewing; so here is my first collection of summer reviews, no connection other than timing between them: 

The Conformist 
There was a posting online the other day of a David Lynch interview where the man talked about how he hates neatly tied films; mysteries ruined by explanation. The exact words aren't important, just that between the lines Lynch was saying people shouldn't have to have everything explained to them; a thinly cloaked defense of his own films without ever mentioning one. My mind instantly jumped to a previous night when I was watching Bertolucci's The Conformist.

The film throws you straight into the confusion, your never so much given an explanation as your given a thread at which to unravel everything yourself. The opening jumps around from one set piece to another, and even once it's stabilized onto a straight line the image of our main character Marcello and his associate Manganiello driving through a snowy land is returned to throughout the film, with the story finally catching up to them near the end. They drive without giving us any explanation of where they're going, and the world outside is foggy and hard to make out. It's a good metaphor for Marcello's journey, shrouded in confusion and constantly changing direction.

That journey is to Paris where Marcello must assassinate an old teacher of his. A newly-wed, Marcello brings his wife on the trip, although this only starts to confuse matters even further, especially when the teachers wife Anna turns out to be as bored with marriage as he is. He's got an assassin's mission but there's little explosive nature here; Bertolucci focuses a dialogue heavy film around a world trying to escape the boring of fascism and Marcello's opposing wish to conform into the everyman. It's the reason the film's set in 1930s, and why an anti-fascist is the target. In one sequence Marcello's wife and Anna lead a conga line of everyone in a restaurant, Marcello declines to play along and ends up in the middle of everyone in the room; all of them circling around him until they blur into each other, all faceless, all becoming one single entity. It's only Marcello who stands out in the middle, unable to conform with any of the people around him.

Being this is the 30s there's lots of extravagant art-deco, the bright colours and careful framing brought to mind a twisted Wes Anderson, and the weighty loft of the characters, along with ending that jumps ahead years to show us the effect of all of our character's choices echoed the recent output of P.T. Anderson. Yet Bertolucci doesn't follow the path of either of those men; this film (logically) lacks the quirk or endearing message of Wes or the false grandeur of Paul; despite the weight of the world on it's main character's shoulders The Conformist feels fantastically light on it's feet; serious in tone throughout yet set in a world filled with dancers and party's and characters who seem to have only one major aim in life and focus all of their energy on that.

That blindsided focus on the objective is most apparent in Marcello; he's got his mission yet his life doesn't resolve around it; it flows in any direction the tide takes him. That the movie came out in 1970 means Marcello preceded other anti-hero's of the 70s such as Michael Corleone and Travis Bickle, yet in a sense both of those men had redemption floating around their heads; Corleone was a war hero and he starts off on the right side of the law, while Bickle tries to find redemption by saving Jodie Foster's prostitute; no such redemption follows Marcello. His wish to conform with the rest of society almost seems to suck the life out of him. A flashback to Marcello's early life when he comes close to being sexually abused might add somewhat to his motives but it still doesn't humanize him, not that he would wish to be humanized; even when confessing his sins to a priest he doesn't seem in anyway sorry, he just sits and talks out of obligation as he describes the crimes he has committed and the one he will commit next.

It's this blankness of character in the face of such a colourful world that gives the film it's core. Overall I enjoyed The Conformist; it dragged in places but in the end all pieces, even the ending which felt un-needed as it was unfolding, make a meaningful whole. I must say I dislike most modern foreign films, not because of subtitles but because they lack style or personal touch. Watching A Prophet the other night I couldn't help but be uninterested in the lack of any auteur putting his stamp over the top; the French invented the damn word so why are they so fast to forget it. A good story is needed of course, and The Conformist has that too, but what most modern foreign films lack is that added stylization, that confirmation that it's a movie your watching, because remember kids: the style is the content. The Conformist has that, and a lot more too. 9/10

Almost Famous 
This site might only be-able to sum me up with the broad stroke of being a writer, or even a blogger, but go read some of the music reviews and you'll see being a music journalist is a big goal for me. I'm past 15 so I can't quite fulfill the fantasy presented in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous; of William, a young music fan who gets the chance to write for Rolling Stone by following up-and-coming band Stillwater, but it's still a source of fascination.

It could be said that some of Almost Famous was born from truth, Crowe did work as a Rolling Stone writer from a young age, but there's no pretense here for this being a true story, even the band Stillwater is fictional. Almost Famous is a piece of pure fantasy; one of the most wonderful wish fulfillments ever put to celluloid. The wish fulfillment comes from a young William, who during the film's opening witnesses his sister run away to the free world of the hippie 60s. She does leave him one thing behind though; her record collection. In a note she leaves she tells William to listen to Tommy by The Who with a candle lit as it will show him his future; cut to 1973 and that future is here.

William meets Lester Bangs, the Creem writer who many believe to be the greatest rock critic ever; you can see from my last post that I'm one of them. It's another part of the fantasy; I'm sure most aspiring music critics would love to sit in a cafe talking shop with Lester Bangs, and seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman play the man was one of the main reasons for my viewing. Not that he's in the movie for long, but his scenes make him out to be the typical mentor figure; I kept thinking Crowe would reveal it all, that Bangs had duped him, that his whole dark opinion of rockstars and Rolling Stone was just wrong and William had outgrow the master and entered into a new age of rock n roll. One of the first things Bangs tells William is that rock is dead, this isn't the 60s anymore and the game has changed. I was waiting for him to proved wrong, not really because I cared too much about the state of rock, I will with sadness and all admit that rock is dead, or at least it's been dying more and more since the 60s. But Bangs never gets proven wrong, not that you can't be friends with a rockstar, but Bangs points still stick, and in the end I'm glad they did; Lester Bangs wasn't like the rockstars he reported, not even his lifestyle brought him up to speed with them, but he was himself, no-one broke him down and changed him, and that's rock n roll. Near the end Bangs picks up the phone, William on the other end, and after an unheard question says without any sarcasm or anger "I'm always at home, I'm uncool"; that's beautiful, and real words of a very very cool man, at least to uncool people.

And things just get better when you get to Stillwater; each member of the fictional band feels fleshed out without any of them following the expected rock band stereotypes. Thankfully this is no serious Spinal Tap. You can't link these characters to real rock figures, at least not completely. William follows the band, his time with the band growing and growing as he tries desperately to pry an interview out of front-man Russel. All the while he's introduced to a world of swimming pool bashes and threesomes that his mother, played by the surprise performance of the lot Frances McDormand, definitely wouldn't approve of. She's the grounding of the whole film, always at the back of the film (and William's mind) trying to push her way to the front with endless phone-calls nagging William of the school he's missing and his upcoming graduation. Mainly because up to that point she's given William a very sheltered life; she's a college teacher who teaches her kids in her own unique way and from the outside, and even when up-close to be honest, seems over-controlling and a little self-deluded.

To top it all off William falls in love with a Stillwater groupie named Penny Lane. Played by Kate Hudson in her only notable performance that springs to mind, she plays Penny as an alien; her movements and speech unique to her. Although she's a 70s groupie which obviously means she's depressed and too doped to know what's really going on. She's William's ultimate escape from his tedious life, which isn't all too bad with the Rolling Stone deal and music tour and all, but it still all seems dull in the flashing lights of Penny's offer for the both of them to go to Morocco and find a new life.

In the end William is a little blank. An interesting protagonist and a well-intentioned kid, but a soul in need of someone to guide him. And that's all the characters in Almost Famous try to do. His mother trying to turn him off all of this rebellion and put him on track; the track she clearly set him on long ago. Penny in her self-induced fantasy, stuck in the awe of the stars around her, just like so many other people, living in the hope of a fantasy world that becomes so real to her that she even invites others into it. Lester Bangs with his me-against-the-world pose, trying to build William up by telling him that it's ok to be down. Stillwater, who still debate in privacy if talking to a journalist is really the right thing to do, yet who also try to live the high life and be free even if it means bottling everything up inside until it eventually explodes. All of these different ways of life, all colliding in on William. And that's why I loved this film, because each side is given equal time to make it's case. And in the end? They're all right, and all wrong too. In the end William's mother just wants whats best for her son, and she finally notices how that's done, his sister finally makes her peace and excepts her wrongs, the band finally open up and Bangs is who he is, unapologetically; all of these characters are. It's nice to know that in a world of opposing forces all can get along without anyone having to budge; unless of course they actually needed to.

The most beautiful scene of the movie though is when the Stillwater plane gets caught in some form of electronic field. I'd say they were hit by lightning but I know for a fact that would have no effect on the plain; so either I wasn't listening carefully enough or Crowe didn't do enough non-musical research; one of us is wrong at least. All members think they're about to die, so even in front our young journo/hero they spill the beans on everything. They each get their shot at shouting out the secrets they wouldn't want to die never telling, and to be honest it gets a little dark; the band-mates go a little hard on each other. And it was in this moment I noticed the big difference that separates Cameron Crowe's movies from almost all others. I'll confess to being no Crowe fan; I liked Jerry Mcguire but after that it was all just films about zoo's and Orlando Bloom and I couldn't really find my motivation, but they all have this factor that pulls them in another direction from most; there's good in the bottom of all Crowe's characters. They inhabit optimist worlds, but it's the characters themselves. They might say bad things now and again, and as they all think that plane's gonna crash they might not be the nicest of people, but there's good in all of them. Cameron Crowe simply hasn't been knocked down. And that's as perfect a way one could present the time and place presented in Almost Famous as one could ask for. 9/10

Winona Ryder is fantastic isn't she. Lets just imagine this review is transmitted to us from 1988 for that to be true. No, I couldn't give a crap if she did some shoplifting some lifetimes ago, it's just not a crime that would bother me. No, the reason is simply that even now, in 2013, during Winona's big career resurgence, she's still that same person. Still weird and quirky and all too real for most celebrities. I, in my teenage dome, have no real connection. I'm sure she'd be a big catch if I was 40 and didn't want a trophy wife, I wanted someone nice instead. Instead it's 1988, I'm 16, and I don't want an A-grade girlfriend, I want someone nice instead. And it's weird to tell who Ryder's actually playing in all her old movies, she's no outcast, not really; far too cool for that. But she's always the relatable one, always gothic and self-assured. A contradiction which a fool could predict Tim Burton getting attached to, and his twisted visions did serve her well, but it's in Heathers where Winona Ryder's weird enigma of a teenage persona reached it's peak.

Ryder plays Veronica who's recently got herself into the hottest clique in the school; the Heathers, which has only three members, all girls, all named Heather. Veronica doesn't seem to hate her new label, she has sold out a little to be where she is, but these are her best friends. It's not until new kid JD, played by Christian Slater, shows up that her world flips. The boys got a bit of a murderous streak and without revealing those all destroying spoilers I'll say that Veronica gets involved in his plans, which have which have to do with the Heathers.

The level of satire here was surprising at first; this is real satire, where every conversation Veronica has with her parents being exactly the same other than the name of the place she is going. It's hammering home the point of these passive parents; fulfilling their obligation without really participating at all. Everything in Heathers is like this; why build up love between Veronica and JD when you could show them talking for the first time then cut to them naked in the middle of the garden. None of it would work unless the whole world of Heathers worked in this way, and luckily it does. The whole school, all the Heathers, all the parents, everyone, they all sizzle to this extreme. Take the two jocks for instance: Kurt and Ram, both typical bully types who always wear those matching red sports coats, who go on double dates and end up shit faced in the middle of fields trying to screw over the cows. Everything in Heathers goes so far out to make it's point it makes everything in the film seem normal. It's only once the credits start to roll when you notice what a weird world you've been let into.

And what is the point this films trying so hard to make? I'll be honest and say most of it gets lost in the translation. It's a fun movie, well done, and staring at it once it's done you can tell there's some sort of point been made somewhere, you just can't tell where exactly. It's popular kids being killed, everyone staying blind to everything, all of the outcasts been given a bigger voice; some of the message could even been swept aside as expected teen angst, but there is something; especially in the society in the background of Heathers who accept all the weird happenings of these teens. Society is happy to accept those two jocks were gay lovers who committed suicide because, well, those adults just don't understand us youngsters. I related to that point, this feeling that people who aren't certified "adults" yet aren't real people, that they're simple 2 dimensions as easy to read as a statistics sheet. Which is a point still relevant now, maybe more-so now, which the film gets right by portraying the adults as being just as oblivious of everything as the kids.

So in the end it could be said I enjoyed the sarcastic exterior of Heathers more than I enjoyed the darkness it was trying to let out from beneath. Winona Ryder, only 16 at the time of filming, got the role she played in every movie back then as right as anyone ever has. Christian Slater overacted and generally tried to be the big mysterious movie star he wanted to be, although for once it fits. The rest of the cast and the colorful production do the vision well. It's a very fun movie, although it's probably a lot easier to root for Veronica if your of the younger crowd. 9/10

So that was my first batch of summer reviews, sorry for all the positivity it must be the sun's rays, and remember...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Psychotic Reactions of Lester Bangs

It's good Lester Bangs was such a good writer because the opinion's he had on the music of his time never quite gel'd with the mainstream. He championed The Velvet Underground in the late 60s, and said himself he was one of the few who did; it took so long for the band's reputation to grow in the mainstream to where Bangs had always held them that he didn't witness most of it due to his death at 33 in 1982 from an accidental drug overdose, not from the cough syrups he had used to get high for most of his life but from valium tablets of all things; treating a flu.

That shouldn't get ya down tho, bangs story, at least the one I salvaged from Psychotic Reactions, a collection of his writing selected by fellow famous music journo Greil Marcus released back in '87, is inspiring, at least in a music writing sense. The most obvious of this inspiration is Bangs' MC5 review which landed him a full time job at Rolling Stone and still stands as a beacon of hope to all aspiring rock critics; although the review itself, like all of Bangs' Rolling Stone material, is only mentioned in passing during the books introduction. The book mainly focuses on his time at Creem, a defunct music mag during the mid-70s and later as a freelancer. It's all good stuff, and mostly done in chronological order which allows you to see Bangs' writing style change and evolve over time, and also allows for that rarest of journalism; a writer referencing an older piece he's done and telling you why it's rubbish.

While reading I was infected with the wannabe journalist tendencies, trying my hand at music reviews and checking online vacancies all over town, a lot easier to catch while reading Psychotic Reactions than reading most modern journalism. Bangs' reviews tended to focus on the music in question a little less than one would expect; the sub-heading of the book says it perfectly "Rock 'n' Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'n' Roll" Bangs used his place as a music critic to talk about anything; politics, women, celebrity, and lots and lots of Lou Reed among others; it was a Gonzo style for sure, but it explained the music better than any stuffing of music stereotypes and recycled tropes could.

And Lester Bangs did have a lot to say. His reputation isn't for his writing, which was a fantastically sleazier version of Hunter S. Thompson, but for his ability to understand music and what made it work, which extended a lot further than his foresight of the Velvet Underground. Bangs is usually credited with inventing punk, not the musical style of course but the term at least. Mostly stemming from The Stooges, another one of Bangs' beloved that spent years in the red before the mainstream eventually apologized for their mangling. He talks here about punk, and in one specific case of Stooges' Fun House, and manages to bring a genre at the time accused of being lower art and show why it stands next to any other music of the time. He doesn't make the case for it as high art, but it does show how low-art and the raw, amateurish style therein were important in their own way.
Despite this cover Lester Bangs didn't look like a 70s pornstar in real life
Highlights include Bangs' famous interview with Lou Reed; a late night grudge match between two people who were happy to say exactly what they think of each other, and a tour log with The Clash where the punks are painted as saviours to all rock n roll. If there is a flaw to the book it's the final quater, specifically the section titled "Unpublishable" where the chronology is ditched to show a collection of unfinished works or diary scribbles. They make sense in the editing; showing you all of the different sides of the Bangs' writing, but I was half way through short story Maggie May, inspired but not about the Rod Stewart song, when I noticed there was a severe lack of music talk going into my brain. In the end we are returned to a final piece Bangs' wrote not long before his death that finally gets us back to the music and ties the whole thing, including what we know of his life, up into one neat package. Although I did struggle to find a bigger incentive to read when the subject wasn't music; not that all of these pieces are bad, a short excerpt from All My Friends Are Hermits, Bangs' first planned non-fiction, is interesting to say the least.

As for Bangs' take on music, he had a hard time with the music of the seventies, at least til punk arrived. He resented big bands of the time like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, not because they were big but because to him they represented going in the complete opposite direction of the raw emotion and rebellious spirit of the rock that was introduced in the 60s. The endless jam session guitar solos of Zeppelin and the self-imposed importance of the Floyd albums were symbols of all that was wrong with modern rock to Bangs. He got Zeppelin wrong, not who they were, they were the self entitled pricks he thought they were and not as good as anyone was willing to admit at the time, although this self-indulgence did sometimes bring home good results. Surely only a band that thought of themselves as highly as Zeppelin did could feel a song as long and unadvertising as Stairway To Heaven was what the world needed. I'm sure others will make a similar defense to Pink Floyd, although while reading it's hard to disagree with Bangs; he doesn't get bogged down with technical jargon and he lacked any offside agenda, he made a good case for what he thought, be it the popular opinion or not. He managed to separate the music and the politics behind it, but he was big on both; a band with good music could only be so good if they didn't treat their fans right or have some sort of personality behind the bravado.

It's this focus on the other aspects floating around the music that made Psychotic Reactions such a fun read. Don't go in for best music guides and "Lester Bangs' Top 10 Albums" type articles because they're not here, and the format is more focused on the articles he wrote than the reviews; the online rolling stone archives will serve you better if that's what your after. One article was research into racism found in the whole new wave scene. I'd never connected the two previously; not that it's the kind of thing you'd expect people to be remembering, which is probably what makes the whole thing such an interesting read. Another one of the best in the book is an obituary written for Elvis, it's both a good example of Bangs' Gonzo style in his story of the only Elvis show he ever saw live, and a showcase of one of Bangs biggest writerly obsessions; solipsism. The word is repeated over and over through the book, especially in the late 70s articles. Bangs said many things that took fruition long after his death; his hilarious quips in the late 70s that The Stones should just pack it in and avoid the embarrassment cracked a smile, but it's his assertion that solipsism was the future, that the age of agreement was over and from now on everyone would have their own taste of music, oddities and all differentiating from everyone else, that rings the most true.
You could make the case that we're in another 70s, a music industry who holds the cards, all of them with big dollar signs right across them, and we're desperately in need of another punk invasion, or whatever the 21st century equivalent of that would be. I wouldn't argue, although having tastes that oppose the mainstream isn't cool anymore; hipsters are so much the norm now they no longer exist. You could look at the past of music as a collection of smaller eras; the birth of rock 'n'n roll with Elvis and Berry and the likes in the 50s leading to early 60s bands like the Beatles and Stones which they inspired, who gave birth to the Psychedelic era which itself was were heavy metal was born, first with guitar bands like Cream and The Yardbirds and later the real thing with Zeppelin and Sabbath. It seemed like a never-ending evolution; new wave and post-punk and grundge and everything else. Somewhere along the line, before the turn of the century, it all got muddled and blurred together. Now everyone has their weird tastes and oddities, nothing new here. So in the same way a person might claim the exaggerated satire of a 70s film like Network makes it look so much like the modern world it's still relevant, so too is Psychotic Reactions more approachable today than lots of ramblings on older music that people have already made up their minds on.

As for the writing itself Bangs was a good prose artist. He clearly heralded from the 60s counter-culture side of things with William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. I read Fear and Loathing right before and the conversational style of both authors stuck out most; both were journalists who had bigger ambitions than a lifetime of weekly reviews, and both brought a sense that all of what they were saying was exactly how they felt, no over-familiar phrases and writing cliches to trick readers into think what they were reading had anything more than surface value. Bangs isn't the best writer in a technical sense, but he's my personal favorite; much easier to look up to a writer who let the creative juices flow out, fearless, than a self-questioning expert, forever finding the numerical nature of a set of words. Marcus, in the introduction, explains that Bangs was an all night writer, spilling feelings onto the page, but in his later years, after moving to New York in the late 70s, started re-writing his work more, found in the writing in a much more organized sense of structure and purpose. There is self-indulgence, but Bangs aim was always true; even the indulgence seems to add up in the end.
Phil Hoffman as Bangs in Almost Famous
But back to the man himself. In that final article of the book, the one from his notes that sums things up so nicely, Bangs tries to figure out why it's been his goal all of this time to review rock music, or more precisely to elevate the reputation of underground, under-loved bands like The Velvet Underground. Before reading the book I read an article about Bangs, possibly by another journalist who used to know him although I couldn't swear by it, that Bangs mission to persuade the opinions of others stemmed from his childhood as a Jehovah's Witness in a religious family that didn't take kindly to rock music. His frequent use of capitols to EMPHASIZE POINTS all from that early door to door persuasion, and the drive to be a rock critic spurred on by the rebellion of listening to rock music when he shouldn't've been. Bangs own explanation doesn't quite match, although there's probably truth in both; instead Bangs tells of his days in the late 60s, forced to listen to the endless Cream albums his friends would play, another band Bangs had reservations about, when all he wanted to play was White Light/White Heat. Of course this was the late 60s and his friends, like everyone else, just dismissed The Velvet Underground as fag music. Bangs had musical ambitions before this but he recounts this time of his life as the one that set him off. There's a whole book full of the career he made into a response. It's pretty long, although Blood Lines the second collection of Bangs work should be enough to show this is only a small showcase of his writings, although this is were to start and it's all interesting stuff. The writing elevating any subjects that might not interest you. Bangs death was a tragedy, and while reading my mind couldn't help but drift into thoughts of what he would have thought of all music since. Although I have no doubt he would have made sense of the jumble of modern music better than anyone else. 10/10

Thursday, 11 July 2013

How Sun Stroke Finally Made Me Appreciate The Beach Boys

So me and some friends are chilling on the beach when we notice the only sounds around us are from annoying kids half the beach away and some nearby dogs which look so big one of my friends keeps referring to them as bears. Obvious solution: music. Lucky for everyone people are making mini-speakers and ipods full of songs materialize. Unlucky for me not one of my friends has any interest in anything other than modern pop. I know this well by now and don't bother to complain, but it still hurts to sit and bask in an atmosphere of enjoyment when Olly Murs plays in the background. Even Calvin Harris who I like feels like a cop-out compared to the multitudes of music no-one else here has ever heard of.

Then again not all of that music would work on that beach. Actually, none of my favorite artists, be it Nirvana, Rolling Stones or Kanye West would fit here. The only band that I could think of was Beach Boys. I wasn't much of a fan, but there was still more to them than the name that made them perfect beach music. Something so simply, almost childlike, about their music. Their optimism reflecting back the sun's rays.

The beach trip ended, fun overall, and I got home to face the consequences of 5 hours sweltering without sun cream. Some might say I'd write about this experience because it's one of the things on my mind, but sitting trying not to move my tomato-red arms or slowly peeling neck I must confess it's the only thing on my mind. Being a Brit the sun has managed to catch me off guard (not that I'm an expert on the sun, or beaches, or having skin a darker shade than pale). It's done so much damage I've been transformed into a lowly cripple boy, or at least the next worst thing; to paraphrase me some Jagger: what can a poor boy do except to listen to a rock n roll band.

That rock n roll band ended up being The Beach Boys. Not right away, I spent the rest of that first day hunched in the exact same position, as to avoid injury, leaving the only body part for movement being my mouth, which was opened and closed every time I felt like feeling sorry for myself. It all felt completely justified. My history with The Beach Boys had been an uneventful one thus far. I had first heard them as a kid at my grandparent's family get togethers. It was the traditional surfer songs and the classics, namely God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and Wouldn't It Be Nice. It sounded, like everything at these get togethers, like old people music. Not for me. No rage or internal hate like all the stuff I was already into at such a young age. It was good stuff though, all very memorable, and probably more appropriate than blasting The Prodigy at the old timers. I never followed any of these listens up, which at the time would have meant watching tracks individually on Youtube or illegally downloading on Limewire.
My other experience with The Beach Boys was a few months ago when I was working my way through all of the "classics". I already had their popular tunes on my Spotify playlist but I knew where I would start to really bite into The Beach Boys, with an album all fans and critics (and snobs) never shut up about: Pet Sounds. The Boys have a fair few albums, and as you'd expect of a successful of artist of over five decades they've got quite a few good ones, but Pet Sounds represents their only officially certified classic. I ended up enjoying it, no classic or even as good as the Beatles albums I was championing at the time, but it was different from what I expected. I understand Pet Sounds isn't trademark Beach Boys; by then they were off the surf boards and into the studio, lots of experimentation and Brian Wilson going crazy trying to let his artistic side out. I still didn't find much though. I felt like these guys didn't know how to rock, at least not with the same force of other classic bands, and their big defense against this, the studio innovations, had grow old. They didn't have me just yet.

Jumping to a few days ago; I'm sitting on my computer cycling through tracks not for pleasure but for distraction from my skin which has by now turned on me. The Beach boys were on my mind. They were on this doc the night before. It was called something like "Young Forever: How Rock 'n' Roll Grew Up" and it was basically a big joke on the BBCs part towards The Rolling Stones. They spent the first half of the show kissing the 'oldies asses and giving a history of British music in the 60s, after that they showed how the punks took over and shelved all of the 60s crew, with the last part showing were all these artists are now and lots of apparently brainy people discussing what aging should be like for an artist. The Stones were the main focus, with the holy grail of the footage being an interview with Jagger from the early 80s, at the time of the first Stones tour in 6 years, where he talks about being an older rockstar. He assured fans who had wrote into him that a man in his late 30s shouldn't be performing in such a way that he would be fine, right before telling the interviewer he thinks he has about 5 years left with this sort of performing before his body becomes useless and he has to pack it all in. Ironic at first but in the end inspiring in the same way as that guy in his 90s who runs all those marathons.

The Beach Boys were also on the show, after all The Stones aren't the only ones who've passed 50. They were in a reunion gig with Brian Wilson back after a few decades of absence; nice to see the guy kept up a good appetite in his years as a recluse. All they played was God Only Knows but they were still rolling around my head the next day; which is why I dedicated a perfectly good sunny day sat inside finding out who these Beach Boys were (are?).
I'll set the ground rules straight away; The Beach Boys started, like The Beatles, as the first of a new type of rock music in the early 60s and spent their first few years a respectable boy band with a clean image. Then, from 1965s Pet Sounds to 1971s Surfs Up they made lots of great music that is considered hugely influential. Since then they've coasted for a solid 40 years, although it's showing of that 7 years quality period that the good will fund hasn't run dry just yet. The music found in this quality period is what I've been listening to, and even as a new found fan probably what I'll always be interested in. As much as my excessive fandom might grow I still don't see myself ever uttering the words "Y'know what I really need right now Dave? The Beach Boys christmas album".

The biggest crime against The Beach Boys is that they've always been lumped with other 60s titans, Beatles and Stones, despite being a very different beast. I'd always put them on the same league as The Monkees; a bunch of yanks trying to steal the fab four's thunder who hit it lucky with a few classic tunes. Which is a sign of bad marketing because The Beach Boys are nothing like the corporate cheesefest they're made out to be. It is true they couldn't rock; no blazing guitar solos or any sort of cool aura about them, but they were the most personal band of their time, possibly ever. It was a band made of three brothers, there was also a cousin and a friend in there too but no-one gives a fuck about them so why should I? In a sense it was a family band; and even after hitting the big time they somehow managed to keep it in the family. Bands like The Stones or The Who got around to making complex music that connected with people but neither could have pulled off a song like In My Room, but that was The Beach Boys in their element.

I've always associated The Beach Boys with a sense of perfect childhood-style happiness. A bit like Abba. And in a way I still do, but when the music finally clicked for me I saw a distorted side to that happiness. At the beginning of Wouldn't It Be Nice as the bell rings out I imagine a single lonely lifeboat floating out in the middle of the night into uncharted waters. All music of The Beach Boys has a sense of discovery to it, of something mysterious and alien. You can listen to The Beatles and you can tell what your listening to instantly, and don't get me wrong your listening to great music, but you can't quite put your finger on what sound The Beach Boy's are creating. All of the tracks are extra short, 3 minutes is long for a Beach Boys track; small compact classics that come and go so quickly you hardly have any time to get to know them, as if they're floating in and out of your conscious, flying back to that magical ether in the sky as fast as they flew down.
This is all perfectly captured in my favorite Beach Boys track 'Til I Die. Brian Wilson asks "how deep is the ocean?" and from then on your swept into the song, like the leaf described in the lyrics; floating, soon to be blown away. After listening to the song for the first time I found 'Til I Die replaying over and over in my head, but I could never figure out what song it was until I heard it. There's no memorable beat or even recognizable instruments, even those lyrics, while oh so memorable, are as wandering as the sound. It still managed to get stuck in the ol' noggin thou. It's as natural as music can get, not in a technical sense of course, it was the work of extensive studio wizardly and endless overdubs, but the sound created there is more personal and human than anything coming out at the time, or anything since for that matter. It doesn't get my vote for best song ever, but there is a sense of discovery and wonder in the sound there that can't be created on a whim or even with the help of impressive studio technology; no, that feeling has to be inside the musician, and it was inside The Beach Boys, or in Brian Wilson at the very least.

History's had it chalked down somewhere that The Beach Boys were out there making music for Mr. America, which isn't true at all. They were a few kids growing up in suburbia and the music reflected that. I suppose it would be easy to look at all the songs about cars and spray paint "corporate rock" over everything, but in truth these songs came from a few kids, brothers even, excited about getting their first car and what it must have meant at the time. I see now that they weren't spokesmen for America, they told personal tales of suburbia, the same one as David Lynch of Blue Velvet, just maybe a bit more kid friendly.

It was Brain Wilson's producing that channeled all of this into the music; an obvious explanation for why the music started going downhill when Brain took a backseat in the band. His productions don't quite stand against the technical works of grandeur from modern producers (Dr. Dre), or even have the conceptual ideas Kanye West has been working with for his recent albums, but I'd argue they still stand as the high point of musical producing. Not just because doing such complex manipulations in the 60s was like drawing the Mona Lisa with crayons, but because it still sounds great, it makes the music unique and is still a showcase of how with the right man behind the wheel studio manipulation can really help to realize someones original vision.
The best album never made, apparently
That's saying little of who The Beach Boys were tho, and don't mistake them for their sun-soaked squeaky clean image; The Beach Boys were weird. One of them went reclusive for a few decades, another drowned in a pool, one even lent his house to Charles Manson just before all those brutal killings. Which is probably why there's something quite creepy about the bands perfect image; something slightly wrong with an album so enthusiastic it's called Smiley Smile. They had their psychedelic album, and their change in direction album, and yes even their fucking christmas album, but they never had a dark album. Not really. They've kept those mouthes smiling for 50 odd years. Which in the end I guess is a good thing; The Beatles turned their backs on what they started out as and when they all got free they couldn't stop trying to one up their old selves; probably the reason they all remained beatles forever. Most bands, especially when given a lot of time, start second guessing themselves; it's why there's no signature Stones, they've had so many faces it's impossible to know which are the real ones, if any are. Not The Beach Boys, they remained themselves through good and bad, which I guess puts them at the top of something.

Not that it matters who they were, just go listen to The Beach Boys. Ignore the image they have of fairground showbiz performers, and listen to the music. Listen to Sloop John B, to Don't Worry Baby, and Feel Flows. Brain Wilson should go down as one of the best music producers ever, and the band's back cataloge is nothing to laugh at, but really what I like about the Beach Boys is that feeling of discovery and endless possibilities captured in the music. It feels lost now in time and space, but it's all recorded and listenable forever. It took me a long time to see who The Beach Boys really are, and most probably never will, but I'm glad I did; my dad summed it up perfectly that first night when he walked in the house to see me, the red of my arms almost luminous in the dark: "I guess you just had to learn it the hard way".

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Notes on a British Prom

It's too much for a writer staring at blank paper; even worse when it's e-paper. I thought about selling out and making a journal entry post, but once you do that you get sucked into doing it every month or even every week, which comes with a presumption from the internet that I do things that often. Maybe doing such every month makes you grab life by the horns just so your readers aren't reading about how proud you are of completing that sudoku in record time; although I'm not buying it. 

Thing is I got half way through that journal post and found the only thing I was journaling about was my school prom. Problem solved. So here's a tone of rambling thoughts on a night that was billed to me as one of the most important nights of my student life; a hyperbole I'm still trying to decipher:
  • Holy fuck did people hype this baby up. I didn't buy into it much, it was just something else happening, like global warming and stock market plummets. It wasn't until the day before I noticed it was all happening to me. I dreaded it until I got there; after that there was no chance all night to actually let dread sink in. 
  • If there is any yanks reading then the one thing that differentiates your proms from ours is that parents over here are the most excited ones. No mental breakdowns, or even positivity from the people my age; I wish I could say the same for my parents. Having my parents boss me around trying to get me in suitable shape for the big night was the low point of the whole day. Cramming "it was all for your own good" shit down my throat the day after, yeah right. 
  • I arrived at my friends house first; he sorted out a coach months ago to come pick us all up (all 35 of us) and take us down to St. James, the most swarve venue our school could get together. Fun seeing my friends and random acquittance's that despite 5 years at the same school I still don't know the names of. Annoying that it all took place while standing in my friend's garden for half an hour while lots of parents (none of which were mine) stood around taking photos of us in our prom attire. The coach eventually turned up (a little early actually, so well done to whichever company it was) unfortunately there wasn't enough seats; causing obvious problems. Luckily the coach driver foresaw those problems and sent a taxi to pick up the six of us who didn't have places. Good that I went on, it was a funny ride with us all bunched up together, probably more fun than a bus full of isolated pairs not communicating. 
  • So we got to the prom. I'm 16 which I gather is younger than when Americans have prom, which is annoying because you'd think if we steal it from another country we'd at least be able to do it right. Fun night, not really a prom just a school disco. Lots of flashing lights which had little effect on the back of the dance floor which is where me and my friends set camp for most of the night. At least we danced, not like the people sat directly behind us who sat their from start to finish. 
  • I must note: I'm no dancer. I can't do shit with my legs, and the only reason I was so happy to get up and showcase the moves was because it was of that level of darkness in the room that even though everyone can see everyone we all accept that it's dark and it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing.
  • The songs were good; nothing I would listen to on my own, but I knew that going in. I expect in America there's at least one slow song; the lovey-dovey one that's built up to all night and depending on your romantic situation either brings you excitement or dread. Nothing close here. Everything was a rave up. It was all plain mainstream stuff, a few older hits but nothing surprising, which is a shame because the songs were chosen by request. I wouldn't bother giving a request but if I was forced at gun point I'd have gone for Blue Monday by New Order, simply because although it's a disco tune I wonder if the people there would have liked it, certainly not a soul would have heard of it. They had Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke; it was the first time I heard it despite it being number one in the charts for the last few weeks. Good to dance to, and better to do a group sing-along to, although I tried playing it the next day in the comfort of my own home and found the experience hadn't changed my musical preferences whatsoever. Not a bad song, but nothing special, and the line "You wanna hug me Hey, hey, hey What rhymes with hug me?" flies very close to my danger zone. 
  • The only song that threw everything into total chaos was I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor by Arctic Monkeys, which came as a pleasant surprise. Everyone had their arms in the and just kept moving forward; all the better if there was people in front. As far as our side of the dance floor went there was no accidents, but the whole room did go into total anarchy, which is exactly what it should be like. 
  • The school did a pretty good job of the venue; probably because the school stayed out of it as much as they could. Their only part in the whole night was the awards, which for whatever reason happened half way through the night. Didn't win any; they were all things like "most likely to be James Bond" and "most likely to be injured while dancing" all leading up to prom king and queen, which were given out separately but went to two who were actually dating. 
  • As for drinks and shit there was no booze. There was a bar that served coke and fizzies, but it was all a little on the pricey side. I got one coke for the whole night and no food. They were serving it and as far as I know it was free, I just didn't feel like it. Surely large quantities of food plus hours upon hours of non-stop vigorous dancing can't lead to much good. I did try some cake because the girl I was sitting next to couldn't tell what it was (which is a clue to the kind of off-the-counter niche bullshit they were feeding us) who also happened to be the same girl who had me and a friend running around collecting her food and drink. I got the liquids, he got the solids. The problem was there wasn't enough hateful energy in the air that night to make either of us tell her to "fuck off", not even sarcastically, anyways I kinda like that chick. 
  • At the beginning of the night the screens dotted round the room had slide shows of everyone's school photos from five years ago; our first year in high school. I hated it to be honest, I hate photos of myself more than famine and aids. Then the photos ended and it was just a screen showing someone trying to log off of windows xp very quickly, all very Portal 2 y'know; breaking the illusion and all. 
  • There was no big ceremony of an ending; it ended and we left. I don't know what happened to everyone on our coach because there was enough seats for everyone (and spares) with no taxi mentioned. I didn't see anyone left behind but it wouldn't surprise me. For all I know those bastards are still stuck there, living off a horribly overpriced mini-bar and free meals which consist of plain-looking sandwiches and unceremonious cake. 
And that was my year 11 prom. I'll have another one when I come to the end of sixth form in year 13, and for all the kerfuffle whirling around this one I'm told the year 13 prom is the one that's actually "important" a term that is hard to place on either. It was a good right, although no rite of passage, it was just a lot of fun with friends (because lets face it; no one ventured out of their self-made group all night) although it wasn't a big send off to the years and to the people we'll never see again, because we all had that with a leavers assembly on the last day of school.

And to be honest that's what I liked about it. Everyone had the grandiose image that American culture has put in our heads of prom. I went in expecting American Pie. It was good that it wasn't made into a big deal. Prom's still fairly new here, my parents didn't even have prom (probably the reason for their misplaced excitement) yet it isn't at all like the American prom. I suppose I prefered the fact I didn't have to face up to my future or grow up all on Friday night.

Monday, 1 July 2013

James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

I'm no expert on James Gandolfini, I'll be the first to confess. My biggest point of reference for the man has always been catching him on screen while my dad watches The Sopranos. I've seen him in a few movies before; True Romance (although I was too young to remember) Killing Them Softly and in the Coen's The Man Who Knew Too Much, the two performances of his I can openly remember. I always knew of him as a great actor, the same way most youngsters will know Robert DeNiro as a great actor without ever having seen him in action, but I had never seen enough of Gandolfini to tell you why.

Not that he ever asked for any sort of over exposure; Gandolfini, despite having Emmy's and Golden Globes on the mantle piece usually stood back and enjoyed his time in supporting roles, quite frequently playing gangsters or detectives. Not that he ever became typecast (his comedic performance in In The Loop should go towards debunking that) but Gandolfini did fashion a career around playing tough men; confident in their old fashioned ways. He frequently played links back to an older world (his role as a father disapproving of his son's part in the 60s counter-culture in Not Fade Away). It takes a real talent to become a big success in film, TV and stage (which was where Gandolfini started out) yet that's what Gandolfini did.

Anyways, I decided to spend a night finally getting into The Sopranos; a depressing truth that I've been meaning to do so for a long time but only after the news of the actors death did I get around to it. I got through 3 episodes that night; I would have gotten through more but I feared it was getting so late the sun might appear any second and warden me off. I did like them though; the family unit at the center reminded me of The Godfather; lucky there was a lot of (admittedly good taste) violence and gangsters acting as cool as they've been made out to be. In other words; The Godfather without all the boring.

I instantly liked Gandolfini's performance; confidence is the best feature any performance can have. People have been tricked into thinking over-acting is what real acting is, simply because it is "the most acting". It happens when actors start flailing their arms around a lot and doing a lot of yelling. Gandolfini didn't need to do any of that, he didn't need to strain with his whole body to tell you what was going on with his character, he simply presented his emotions to you; everything his character's are feeling is spelled out in the way he hangs himself, the way he moves. Just looking at him you could tell what his character is thinking. Now that's great acting.

It was while watching that first episode of The Sopranos that a point was raised that's been in my head for while, and really thinking about it there's no-one better to represent it than James Gandolfini. Tony Soprano sits in a therapist's office; he needs one after collapsing in his garden seemingly out of the blue. The first episode is structured so that we are welcomed into this family through flashbacks of the events leading up to Tony's collapse, all from the comfort of various therapy sessions. Tony clearly doesn't want to be there; at first this might just seem like typical I-ain't-crazy-why-am-I-here therapy angst, but the more I watched the more I saw it was because the character on the screen was a man turned into the product of the modern world, trying as hard as he can to be an old fashioned type. First broadcast in 1999, the show's place at the turn of the century nicely represents this paradox of a character grappling between the past he wants and the present he's trapped in, all the while worrying for his family's future.

The best part of the episode (I'm enjoying the show by the way; might be the first show I really sink my teeth into since Lost) is a monologue Tony gives to his therapist; the first time this therapist manages to claw past that cold, hard exterior:

"Let me tell ya something. Nowadays, everybody's gotta go to shrinks, and counselors, and go on "Sally Jessy Raphael" and talk about their problems. What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do. See, what they didn't know was once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings that they wouldn't be able to shut him up! And then it's dysfunction this, and dysfunction that, and dysfunction vaffancul!"

I'm still not sure if "that was America" is right or not; as a young Brit I can't tell if that was Britain too or if that's just some wish fulfillment on my part. I guess my ancestors were all too formal; Britain is a nation of people all as one, that's why all school kids wear matching uniforms, while America is nation of individuals (or people trying to be); the place where the Gary Cooper myth was born and where it has now lay down to die.

Don't get me wrong; I'm no crank hoping for the days of misogyny to return. People might look up to a figure like Axl Rose, see the "cool" branding he has been given and think following suit would be the right idea, but those people would be terribly wrong. Rose is a good a representative as any for a type of guy (and world) which is thankfully now past us. He clearly treats women like shit, which doesn't qualify him as the Gary Cooper type, it simply means he's a prick who thinks his money and (faded) fame are enough that the world won't mind his ways. He also acts the jock, as if the bully figure outta' be a power figure. It shouldn't. What I'm talking about here has nothing to do with types like him. James Gandolfini, as he appeared in real life although most clearly with his characters on screen, represented this tough guy figure who did things his way, protected his family and, even when his faith was wavering, stuck with the path he set out on.

I'm not crying or anything, but I do miss this figure. Ok, "miss" isn't the right word because I was never around to see a world made up of bottled up emotions, and hell, maybe it was never real anyway, just a generation all trying to live up to John Wayne, caught on the silver screen and used to fight a war. But whatever it was it's something this world could really use, despite the numbers depleting all the time.

Enough about the strong, silent type though, mainly because I'm not very good at being one and because I doubt such a person could even exist in todays world. The post-modern era is in full swing (will it ever stop?) and it's much better to play the knowing fool. I once believed in that figure that people strive for today; someone who represents the weird failures of the world. But now only I see that these strong, silent types could do their own thing, could be weird and unique and smart and happy, but they really believe in it. All the people today don't believe what they say, they don't understand who they are they just accept it. These old figures, these James Stewarts and Charlton Hestons knew exactly who they were, and as far as I know problems or not they didn't need prozac to do it.

That idea that prozac is what people nowadays need to withstand the world around them is the thought that's been rattling through my brain for a while. A bit weird to find it immortalized in pop culture in a show over a decade old, a point being brought up by a TV character when I was just 3 years old, but it's still as crazy to me now as it seemed to Tony Soprano a decade ago. How could people let this happen? Run the world into such a dire place that people can't even physically handle it without pharmaceuticals. I'm not denying depression didn't exist in the world before this, what I am saying is that they appeared to face up to it full on, very different from what people do today.

So why put all this in with Gandolfini, who knows? I guess I just saw Gandolfini as the last of those strong, silent types. People like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp aren't those kind of men, they're all about the feelings. Not to mention they're personal lives have became as much a point of interest as their films. Everyone's always second guessing themselves and making sure everyone else is ok with what they're doing. Maybe it's true that these kind of people don't exist anymore because it's hard to draw the line between the tough guy figure and the egocentric dick, but those that did manage to draw that line (Gandolfini included) were people to look up to. 

The thing is that nobody wanted to be these people. People look at the celebrities today and they imagine themselves as those people. It's a bling ring culture. Remember that old James Bond slogan? The men want to be him and the ladies want to be with him. That's right, people simply looked at Connery with the cool tux and the beautiful women and they thought "I wish I could be that guy" but that's it. Maybe they strived to be like these people, but that could only be a good thing, right? Today when people look at celebrities they just imagine their own face on a celebrities body, they just want what these people are on the outside. They look at musicians and just wish they had that life, but few will be inspired to pick up an instrument and play. But who was wanting to be Jimi Hendrix in the day? Nobody. You could be inspired by him, admire him, but how could you possibly insert your face over his own. I'm not just talking about the unique talent he possessed, although that is part of it, I'm talking about how pent up the man was. He was a man stuck in his own body, yet that meant he belonged to himself and no one else. Not like today, when celebrities are split up and owned by everybody who sees them.

And that goes for James Gandolfini too. Since his death many have named his performance as Tony Soprano the best TV has ever produced. I don't watch enough TV to be able to properly rate that one, but from what I have seen I'd be fine with giving Gandolfini my vote too. It shouldn't be the only thing Gandolfini is remember by, but if you have to have a singular role used to represent your career then you could do a helluva lot worse than having played Tony Soprano. Gandolfini had the bonus of being part of the first wave of a different style of television, so obviously he'll always be treated as something special in that respect, but it was his demeanor and great performances that made him unique; I can imagine a lot of people looking up to Gandolfini both as an actor and even in the straight-edges of his characters, but try and put your face over his and you'll find you just can't. My heart goes out to his family who have lost the most, but in the showbiz world something else, something very special has been lost, possibly to never return.