Sunday, November 28, 2010
By all accounts, Dave White and Alonso Duralde's discussion of The Nutcracker in 3D is infinitely more entertaining than the film itself, an exercise in movie-making reportedly so execrable that critics had to sign a waiver promising they would not discuss it, in any capacity—no Twitter, no Facebook, no blogging, no water cooler gossip, nothing—before they were subjected to watching a press screening. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Rest assured, Hollywood, if we couldn't drag our lazy gay asses out to see Cher and Christina Aguilera bulldoze through Burlesque this weekend, we certainly weren't going to go out of our way to shell out hard-earned cash to suffer through Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein singing the great melodies of Tchaikovsky, retrofitted as hip-hop pop songs with lyrics by Tim Rice. (No, we have no idea what that has to do with the original source material either.)
The mind reels. Listen to what the esteemed experts have to say over on Dave & Alonso's hilarious weekly podcast Linoleum Knife.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Mark and I watched the 1947 film Black Narcissus this evening. I could list a lot of fine reasons to add this movie to your Netflix queue, but I'm going to limit myself to three:
1. Christmas! A Christmas eve scene, complete with singing of two carols, and featuring both Sabu (star of the 1942 version of The Jungle Book and a drunken David Farrar. This is the only sequence in I recall in the film where Farrar's character, Mr. Dean, is wearing more than a pair of shorts and a battered sun hat.
2. Crafts! Deborah Kerr does some very elaborate needlepoint in one scene. Crewel, from the looks of it.
3. Punk rock! Okay, not really. But if this film is to be believed, wearing red eyeliner induces psychotic breaks. Some of the shots of Kathleen Byron as her Sister Ruth character goes off the deep end are breathtaking. Rarely has madness looked so glamorous.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
One of my favorite holiday traditions, right up there with spinning music Christmas Day on KEXP, is the annual arrival of a new Christmas 7-inch from Seattle singer-songwriter David Bazan (the artist formerly known as Pedro The Lion). Starting with the original rendition of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" back in 2002, almost every year Bazan has teamed up with his friends at Suicide Squeeze to issue a limited-edition, colored-vinyl single featuring a pair of seasonal offerings, ranging from traditional fare ("The First Noel") to Bazan originals.
This year David returns with his own thoughtful composition, "Wish My Kids Were Here," accompanied by yet another pass (his third!) at "I Heard the Bells." In the midst of scurrying around for a family portrait sitting, David took time to chat about his ongoing Christmas project with Festive!—a conversation we both realized was long overdue.
FESTIVE! Have you ever been coerced into dressing up as Santa?
David Bazan: I haven't yet, but I imagine that's on the radar. My booking agent joked that that was part of contract for a college show that I'm playing in December, but I don't believe him.
It's going to be embarrassing if you show up unprepared. Although you could just run out to a drug store and buy some construction paper, string, cotton balls and a glue stick, and whip up a Santa hat and beard.
I like that version of Santa Claus a lot.
I look forward to your Christmas 45s every year. Are there plans to compile them onto a single album someday?
That's been the plan for a little while. Originally we were going to do that this year, but I ran out of time to make it happen. So we're going to do one more 45 next year, and the compilation will be available too. That's the plan.
When do you have to have the Christmas material in the can in order to make a holiday street date?
If it's just a 45, then late July or early August. When we were going to do the compilation record, that deadline was May… and I missed that [deadline] by a lot.
Tell me about the writing and recording of this year's A-side, "Wish My Kids Were Here." Had you been nurturing the song for a while? Was it triggered by a specific inciting incident?
The inspiration for that song is a little messed up. This last year, a couple of friends—or acquaintances—of mine and their wives, who my wife is pretty close with, got divorced. And they had kids. And the way in which the dads detached from the kids, standing them up on Saturdays when they were supposed to get together and things like that, really blew my mind, having kids myself. I'm gone from [my kids] a fair amount, at least a third of the year. And there's a lot of longing and a little anxiety about that: Am I messing them up by being gone so much? So when these acquaintances would act in this way, or clearly have other priorities in their lives besides their kids, it perplexed me. That was the impetus for the song. I started writing it out of a slightly mean spirit. I'm not sure… sort of accusatory. Even though I was adopting their viewpoint, it was sort of skewering them to a degree. And then once I got in it, to do any subject justice, you have to take it seriously. And I started sympathizing, and even empathizing. I could see me, the screw-up, in them.
I wondered at what point you were going to tell me this turned into a cautionary tale directed as a possible self.
That's what happened. So there is a sense now where [the song] is both of those things. It is meant to skewer people who just aren't taking these sorts of things, that later are going to cause a lot of regret and really deep sadness, seriously. But a lot of these things turned into cautionary tales for me, that I then tell myself every time I sing it. With the Christmas songs, I sing them less than other songs, but that's been a common thing that's happened with my work.
When you sit down to write the Christmas originals, do you have a very specific plan and a deadline? Or do songs just sort of manifest themselves throughout the year, and if something seems appropriate for Christmas you earmark it for later?
It's more like that first scenario: "Okay, it's time to write a Christmas song." Or it's time to figure out what songs are going to be on the single. Sometimes there's just one that's been rolling around since last Christmas. Like when I did "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," I'd been wanting to do that one. That was just a natural fit. This year there wasn't any real obvious choice, and I had this idea for [an original] song, so there a came a time when I said, 'Okay, I've got to do this now.' That was in May, and I didn't get it done until another month or so.
You covered one of Low's Christmas songs a few years ago ("Long Way Around the Sea"). Have you guys ever discussed collaborating on a Christmas project? Are you going to jump up on stage and do a number with them when they play their Seattle Christmas show at the Tractor?
It's possible. I think I'm going to go to the show and have dinner with Al and Mim. Often, if Al is around for my shows, will just kind of jump up and sing. But I don't have the chutzpah that he does. But I think those guys are amazing and the idea of collaborating with them on anything would be pretty exciting.
Don't make me start an Internet rumor that you're going to get up on stage with them. Then people would be disappointed if you punked out.
That happened the other week! John Roderick told Eli Sanders that I would be at a Patty Murray thing when I had no plans to do that.
You've recorded the new B-side, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," a few times now. What prompted you to revisit it again?
I really liked the second rendering. I've never really been happy with the first one. The feeling of it wasn't quite right, I was going for something that I just didn't quite nail. So when I did it again for the Maybe This Christmas Tree compilation, I liked that version a lot more. And I want that version—or something similar—to appear on my compilation. But Nettwork Records owns the rights to my version that I like. So if I wanted it on my compilation, I realized I'd have to do it again in some form. And since the last time I did it… the ending of the original Longfellow poem, which always really resonated with me and was hopeful, wasn't as hopeful. It didn't leave me feeling the same way anymore. So for a year or so, I've been trying to think of a way to change it a little bit so that it communicated the hopefulness that I feel now. That was the reason why I did it again, this year. So those two factors caused me to want to revisit it.
With all the tumult in your life over the past couple years, did you ever consider abandoning the Christmas singles?
There was a year in there where I didn't do one. But in general, no. Partly because I love David Dickenson [of Suicide Squeeze] so much, and this is a way of being associated with him, a way to maintain our association. It's been a tense project on some levels. It wasn't an easy fit from the beginning. My relationship with Christmas music has been strained. It's gotten less strained over the years, where I've gotten a lot more comfortable with the idea of doing Christmas music for the sake of ambiance. And I've really enjoyed that tension; each year, it's been tense all over again, to figure out a way to be myself and make a couple of Christmas songs that are true to my tastes and what kind of resonates with me about the holiday.
If you were somebody whose aesthetic was less spiritually and philosophically grounded, you could get away with interpolating a lot more holiday material into your repertoire. But at this point, for you to do "Santa Baby" would be wildly inappropriate.
That's what I felt. I feel like I'm inching towards a little less self-seriousness, as far as how the releases are perceived. But that would be a pretty big jump. I would have to do another 8 or 10 of them before I was able to get that far.
It certainly has been interesting to watch the Christmas singles evolve as your relationship with Christ has evolved.
Yeah. And there was one 45 a couple of years ago that had straight hymns. I didn't monkey with the lyrics at all. And I used a synthesizer to kind of obscure, or imply tension, when certain lines would come down the pike. It's been interesting for me, too. Honestly, that's why I keep doing it. It forces me, every year or so, to sit and think about that. And I'm so glad that I went through the process this way, on accident, rather than just making a Christmas album. Because the thought process would have been longer and been more intense, but it would've only happened one time. This is an on-going meditation of sorts. I may be bummed when I'm not doing it every year.
I hope it won't stop! I assumed that the compilation album would close a volume of the story, but that you would continue making the 45s.
I hadn't consider that I would keep on. But now that I'm thinking about it, I really would rather keep doing it.
Why would you stop?
I don't know! I'm not really a planner, so I don't think that far ahead.
You're not going to stop loving David Dickenson. And even if your relationship with Christ took some radical turns, there would still be room to explore those twists in music. There are so many themes you can explore at this time of year.
I agree completely. And [my relationship with Christ] has changed about as radically as it could, I would think. And there's still so much to ponder and think about. I'm far enough from that change that I'm far less hostile, far less defensive, about the superficial aspects of Christmas or religion or whatever. Now it's just endlessly fascinating.
The weird thing about it is, when I was younger, my escape from the commercialism of Christmas was the nativity, and the real deep sort of idealism and hopefulness that came out of how that story is handled within Christianity. When that was gone, I didn't really have the same escape from the commercial aspect of Christmas. So it's been interesting to find a substitute for that, so that there's something to really cherish every year about it, and escape from the over-commercialization of the holidays.
Do you feel like having children has aided you in that pursuit?
It has. It complicate it. Part of the over-commercialization was so fun as a kid, getting presents and the sheer excitement of all that. And I don't want to rob them of that, but I want it to be balanced, too. Having kids makes everything more vivid. The stakes go up. Just focusing on family, in spite of all the conflict that comes along with that, that's really what I like now: That's kind of my escape. That and It's A Wonderful Life.
You're scrambling around to do a big family photo today. Is that a holiday tradition in the Bazan clan?
No, not necessarily. My parents live in California, and my sister and her husband and child, and my wife and children and I, we all live here. So periodically when we're all together, somebody will come up with the idea and we'll try do something like this. When we have people over for Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a time when we all pile up around the couch and my wife sets up the automatic camera, and we all do that. But not in a studio.
You were talking about Christmas as a child. Did you delineate very strictly between sacred and secular Christmas music as a youngster?
No. Because in no other sphere of my life was secular music allowed, so I didn't really make that distinction with Christmas music. My strongest memory of Christmas music is just riding different places in the car. At a certain point in the year, there would be all this Christmas music. My wife is kind of Christmas crazy. The iPod with 1,001 Christmas carols comes out about this time. Last year it was Halloween. This year she waited. So it's reminiscent of that part of my childhood, and I just have the most warm feelings listening to Judy Collins and whoever. She really stands out as having the sweetest presentation of that material. But that Alvin and the Chipmunks song, and all the classics. If I wasn't married to my wife, I wouldn't be consuming them as much any more. But she insists, and I like it.
(Photo of David Bazan by Lyle Owerko, courtesy of Barsuk Records.)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Somehow, despite my own mania for "the most wonderful time of the year," as well as being amigos with Alonso Duralde of Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas, I'd never heard of this documentary until a few months ago, when my pals at Dust-to-Digital announced they'd be reissuing it. I watched an advance screener a few days ago, and this collision of Christmas, Elvis, and three generations of family drama is thing of wonder, joy, and curiosity.
The DVD contains the half-hour feature film with audio commentary tracks by the documentary subjects and director. The DVD is packaged in a digipack with gold foil stamping on the cover and a booklet that has an interview with the filmmaker.
Shot on VHS tape in 1989 and 1990 by director George King, Ten Thousand Points of Light is available on DVD for the first time.
"Kitsch alert! Worshippers at the shrine of Elvis and followers of pop culture take note. Ten Thousand Points of Light is a wry, understated and terrifically funny look at the Townsends, a suburban Atlanta family who, every holiday season for eight years, transformed their Stone Mountain area brick ranch house into a meteoric blaze of Christmas lights. Known as both “the Christmas House” and the “the Elvis House”, the Townsend’s home was visited yearly by vast numbers of people, many of whom viewed a trip to the land of a thousand tchotchkes as an annual pilgrimage. — Linda Dubler, Creative Loafing
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I am sorry to report that nothing on Wilson Phillips new Christmas In Harmony is a fraction as entertaining as this 1993 single by Carnie and Wendy Wilson. Look, they actually appear to be having fun! At least, sometimes. In sort of staged, artificial way. And isn't that really what this season is all about: Convincing others that you're not writhing in agony until Boxing Day?
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
My editor at MSN seemed surprised, but after the performance of Josh Groban's multi-platinum Noël, which climbed to #1 and was the best-selling album of 2007, I rather expected it. I listened to the album in its entirety last night, and can completely see its appeal: It's an album for people who don't really like music much. The doughy Scot's glacial reading of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" is, for the record, hardly the most grievous selection on the program. At least it showed imagination, which is more than I can say for trotting out Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" yet again.
Official press release in full below. Read it and weep.
Official press release in full below. Read it and weep.
NEW SUSAN BOYLE ALBUM, THE GIFT,
ENTERS BILLBOARD 200 AT NUMBER 1
WITH BEST SELLING DEBUT FOR A HOLIDAY ALBUM
IN SOUNDSCAN HISTORY
Record breaking Susan Boyle has made music history again by becoming the first female artist ever to have the double No.1 album spot in the US & UK, twice in less than 12 months.
The only other act to have achieved this in the history of music were the Beatles in 1969.
The highly anticipated album 'The Gift' from international singing sensation Susan Boyle has entered the number one spot in the Official UK chart and the US Billboard chart making it the fastest selling Holiday album on both sides of the Atlantic, in the SoundScan era.
In 2009 the Britain’s Got Talent star’s debut album ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ became the biggest selling album in the world and fastest selling album in the history of the charts – selling over 10 million copies - and breaking all pre-order sales records on Amazon.
Simon Cowell said; "I'm thrilled for Susan, she has once again defied the odds. She is my superwoman".
Susan Boyle said; “I’ve never felt happier in all my life. This is an amazing result and one I never expected”
Steve Barnett, Chairman of Columbia Records said; "The overwhelming positive response to Susan's new album is a powerful testament to her unique talent. She's able to touch the hearts of her fans around the world who continue to show their loyal support and devotion."
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Festive! began life when I moved to Seattle in 1996, and I was thrilled to discover that two of the folks I kinda-sorta knew best when I arrived appreciated Christmas music, too. Those gents were drummer/label boss/record store mogul Nabil Ayers and bassist/producer Bill Herzog (Citizens' Utilities, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter). These guys had their mitts all over Jingle Up High, Jingle Down Low..., the sole release by the Infant Kings, basically a nom de Noelle for the Model Rockets.
There's something to be said for doing a kick-ass, no-frills job with the classics, and that's what these instrumental garage/surf versions do. Nabil has decided to make the long OOP album available digitally this Christmas, and I'm delighted. Sample their raucous "Joy To the World" and I think you'll understand why this tidbit of news fills me with holiday cheer.
Jingle Up High is available digitally from The Control Group on November 30.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
I seem to be on a downer Christmas music binge this morning. And yet, I'm oh-so-glad to be unhappy. First I wallowed in the new Suicide Squeeze Christmas 7-inch "Wish My Kids Were Here" in preparation for Tuesday's Festive! interview w/ David Bazan. Then I stumbled across this freebie from the legendary Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, a Yuletide offering that contrasts rather dour lyrics with a jaunty reggae groove. This tune makes me excited for her forthcoming solo full-length, Generation Indigo, due out in March 2011.
Monday, November 8, 2010
After years of teasing and tantalizing fans with limited edition holiday releases, preeminent UK pop trio Saint Etienne is finally releasing a complete Christmas album. A Glimpse of Stocking features a mix of old and new recordings (including one of my personal favorites, their cover of Claudine Longet's demented "I Don't Intend to Spend Christmas Without You," which Bob Stanley graciously discussed with Festive! back in our ink-and-paper fanzine days).
This is a strictly limited edition release (3,000 copies) and only available directly from the band. More info here. Don't delay!