Archive for September, 2009


For your viewing enjoyment.

Hilarious… “I’ve seen everything”.

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This post, in partial attempt to push my last post under the radar, is more in my line of pseudo-expertise and at least non-inflammatory interest…

On 6 August 2009 Elliott Smith would have turned 40 years old.  Instead, on 21 October 2009 we grieve six years without him.  Readers may or may not know who Elliott Smith was (or is), but if you’ve heard the film soundtracks for either Good Will Hunting, Hurricane Streets, American Beauty, Keeping the Faith, Antitrust (sadly), The Royal Tenenbaums, Thumbsucker, Georgia Rule (unfortunately), The Go-Getter, or Paranoid Park, or if you’ve played through Guitar Hero 5, you’ve been exposed to at least a portion of his work.  If you’ve not heard any of that, maybe you saw the 70th Academy Awards (1998) and caught his performance “Miss Misery,” which was nominated for best original song (losing to James Horner and Will Jennings for “My Heart Will Go On,” from the film Titanic).  Though he never experienced a great degree of commercial success, Elliott Smith has left a legacy of what I believe are some of the best pop/folk songs ever written.

Elliott Smith’s singing voice can be characterized as a tenor-whisper (which is also doubled in most tracks – Elliott is among the finest/if not the finest doubling singers I’ve ever heard).  When I first heard his unique voice I didn’t know what to expect regarding his looks.  The first time you see a picture of Elliott after hearing his voice you might ask yourself, “Really?”  Yet when you see a live performance (something now only possible through video recordings) the deep honesty of his voice is a perfect complement to the deep honesty of his weathered face.

Lyrically Elliott is typically rather dark, which typically leaves his listeners ultimately unsurprised (though devastated) when they learn of his suicide.  His lyrics often feature the themes of existential despair, love (or the absence of such) and the looming prospect of taking one’s own life (“Instruments shine on a silver tray | Don’t let me get carried away | Don’t let me get carried away | Don’t let me be carried away” – last lines on From a Basement on the Hill‘s “King’s Crossing,” one of the last songs he ever wrote).

But contrary to accusations I’ve often heard against it, Elliott’s music is not a tool for thrusting oneself into despair.  I cannot precisely explain the emotional quality that draws me into Elliott Smith’s music, but it is not one that is dismal so much as it is honest.  When I listen to Elliott Smith I find an advocate, a counselor, one not above the darkness, but in its midst.  Like the Psalmist, Elliott cries out for me when I have no words.  And that is what gives Elliott the edge in my musical library: he is so substantive and of this earth.  His passions, his pains, his loves, his hates, his strengths, and his weaknesses are all laid out with the utmost artistic integrity.  I truly believe every word that comes from his mouth, or at least I believe that he believes what he is singing.

If you’re looking for shallow comfort listen to The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’, one of my favourite pop songs of all time.  But if you want to experience someone’s heart laid out before you and if you want to taste both the sweetness and bitterness of a true artist, give Elliott Smith a listen, a long intentional listen.

Elliott Smith Full-Length Releases

Let me first say that I consider every Elliott Smith album an excellent album, and I don’t award such praise lightly (at least I don’t think I do…).

01 Roman Candle

From 1991 to 1996 Elliott sang/played guitar in the alternative rock band Heatmiser.  While in the band he began his solo career, resulting in 1994’s Roman Candle, nine tracks (the last one instrumental) that Elliott had not actually intended on releasing in album form.  With this in mind, Roman Candle is much less cohesive than Elliott’s later releases, but still showcases his exceptional musical/writing ability, as well as the signature lo-fi production that characterizes most of his music.

02 Elliott Smith

Elliott released his self-titled album in 1995, like Roman Candle, while still in Heatmiser.  This album includes the track, “Needle in the Hay,” featured in the film The Royal Tenenbaums.

03 Either-Or

Either/Or, released in 1997, is follows in the same vein as Elliott’s first two releases.  The title comes from Søren Kierkegaard’s book, Enten ‒ Eller. Several songs from this album were used in the film Good Will Hunting (though “Miss Misery,” the song for which Elliott was nominated for an Academy Award, was written specifically for the film and saw no studio album release).

04 XO

Elliott followed 1997’s Either/Or with 1998’s XO, his first release through DreamWorks and thus his first release on a major label.  Elliott’s earlier philosphical/aesthetic sentiments are present, but begin to manifest themselves differently through this album, which features more instruments and better production.

05 Figure 8

Following in the same musical/productive trajectory of XO, Elliott released Figure 8 in 2000.  This album is simply incredible.  The cover photo was taken in front of the A/V repair shop Solutions in Los Angeles by photographer Autumn de Wilde.  If you’re in Los Angeles you can visit and leave a message on the wall (located at 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.), which has become an unofficial Elliott Smith memorial.

06 From a Basement on the Hill

At the time of his death, Elliott was still working on this album, which was released posthumously in 2004.  Though we don’t have Elliott’s final product here, his former producer along with his girlfriend compiled this album from the material he had been working on in the studio.  They did a good job.

07 New Moon

This album is actually a compilation of B-sides, outtakes and rarities generally from the self-titled and Either/Or sessions, and the style/production is predominantly reflective of that period.  It was released in 2007.

For more information on Elliott Smith visit Sweet Adeline, his official website.

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A section of Hugo Chávez’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly was posted on BBC News online last night.  I took the courtesy of transcribing this portion of the speech:

John Kennedy said, ‘In the south there is a revolution and the main reason is hunger.’  Only a few days later he was assassinated.  John Kennedy was not a revolutionary, but he was an intelligent man, just as I think President Obama is an intelligent man.  And I hope God will protect Obama from the bullets that killed Kennedy.  I hope Obama will be able to look and see-genuinely see-what has to be seen, and bring about a change.  It doesn’t smell of sulfur anymore.  I doesn’t smell of sulfur, it’s gone.  No, it smells of something else.  It smells of hope.  And you have to have hope in your heart and lend your strength to the hope.

Chávez and his rule of Venezuela can be characterized as many things, but I find it intereting to analyze his view of the United States.  In 2006, the last time he spoke at the UN General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush “the devil.”  Now he declares that the smell of sulfur is gone and has been replaced with hope.  We could debate what seem to be his views regarding a link between the assassination of President Kennedy and Kennedy’s stance on South America, but I find his great optimism regarding the presidency of Barack Obama a great opportunity to heal relations with Venezuela and if America so demands it, to exercise some suggestive influence to change certain ways that some Americans might have an aversion toward him and his policies (specifically characterizing Chávez as a threat to capitalism I mean democracy in South America).

Still, some Americans can percieve any interaction with our “enemies” a great threat to national security, and anything divergent from the stagnant animosity America has experienced between itself and a significant portion of this wicked world during the virtuous presidency of George W. Bush ought to be shuned.  Why can’t America talk with these countries?  Why must America set a tone in foreign policy based on closed conditions and global superiority? ◊

Whichever side of the political/economic spectrum we’re on, we can probably agree with a sizable majority that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is incredibly odd.

◊ But I admit that I am rather ignorant when it comes to the scientific study of foreign policy.  I don’t like to be at odds with fiscal conservatives, I simply find that more often than not, I am.  I don’t take my views from this philosopher or that philosopher, but I tend to try to see things through a particular grid, one essentially based on restored relationships between humankind & God, humankind & itself, and humankind & nature.  I am certain that there are ways in which I am totally wrong, but my desire is not to push socialism, capitalism, nor any other -ism, nor is my desire to pledge allegiance to this political party or that political party.  I simply try to view this world as something that was created wisely, broken tragically, and will be redeemed thoroughly via the agenda of one greater than any president or king in this world.

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I love sports.  But in my life I have typically never had teams that I followed specifically and of whom I would call myself a fan.  I have loved football (American) for as long as I can remember and just last year decided to follow the Houston Texans after a lifetime of having no team allegiance.  My reasoning for the Texans was simple… I had followed many of their players in my fantasy football league (I’m a nerd) and got used to wishing they would win, and finally decided to make it official.

After that however, I didn’t have anyone else.  Baseball – don’t watch it (if I wanted a steroidal freak-show I would go back and watch Pumping Iron).  Hockey – huh?  Basketball – love it, but again, don’t have a team I follow.  Golf – are you even allowed to root for anyone besides Tiger? (I think Nike would hunt you down and kill you).  How about soccer, or “football” as the rest of the world properly calls it?  Well, I played in AYSO when I was a youth but that was it, and besides who watches soccer in America?  You need to have special cable connections that unscramble signals from a pirated satellite in space to see a match.  And even then, Americans like sports with high scores, which is why your average baseball fan wants to see a ton of homers, not a pitchers duel.  It is near impossible to get excited about a 0-0 draw.  But I’ve found that a bunch of my hooligan friends do get excited over just such a world, and so they have dragged me kicking and screaming into the vortex of a sporting world full of passionate fans, large amounts of Russian money, gorgeous wives and girlfriends of players (WAGS), and of course drunken and violent thugs.


Shhhh, I'm about to make a sale!

My introduction to this world was appropriately not by watching an actual football match, but in viewing a movie about violent football fans called Green Street Hooligans with my friend Jacob – who is a Newcastle United FC fan and therefore the butt of all jokes because his team was relegated from the Premiership to the Championship league, and also because his team sports jerseys reminiscent of Footlocker salesman.  In addition to the fighting I learned that there are other things fans can do such as drink lots of beer, curse, smoke, and wake up at the crack of dawn to watch a match all the while ruthlessly making fun of each other… things that I do enjoy immensely.  So I decided to join in the fun and choose a team, and thanks to the world of blogging I happened to get some advice from a Brit who rooted for Chelsea FC.

I have no idea who these players are

I have no idea who these players are

Immediately upon arbitrarily choosing Chelsea as my team I learned that I was now the most hated member of this band of friends – Chelsea being the New York Yankees of football apparently.  And while I don’t relish being hated, I do love the attention it draws, and also conveniently the fact that the team is awesome – just like the Yankees!!  So needing to fit in I have bought a jersey, since all these chaps wear their teams “kit” whenever football is being talked about, or being viewed, or being thought about, or when just going to the store for more diapers.  And so now I root for Chelsea FC, a team with a splendid and storied history, and try to remember who they are playing each week, and learn the names of at least three players (Lampard, Cole, Drogba… I think?), and know our record (6-0 beeyatches!).  It has been nothing short of fun in my brief stint as a football fan; I have an outstanding team to root for, a stellar coach (£9 million worth of stellarness), cool looking jersey’s, possession of the Community Shield, and the sweet, sweet knowledge that my team plays in the world’s best football league, The Premier League.  Only dopes follow teams in The Championship.

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Techno Beat

3609TQ11The Technology Quarterly issue of The Economist came out last week, and as usual it amazes and dazzles.  I encourage you to check it out as usual.  A favorite of mine from this issue has to do with 3-D printing.  As the name implies it is possible to “print” out 3-D objects now, such as the one shown here.

Pretty amazing.  I also like the article on turning softwoods into hardwoods with recycled alcohol and the environmental benefits of that.  Check it out if you have a chance.

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Fair CAI readers, I must apologize for my latest absence.  However, I believe you will forgive me for attending to the birth of my little girl.

That said, it is sad that I must burst back upon the scene to comment on the latest politician to defame themself and their position and then offer the flimsiest of apologies.  I speak of Michael Duvall, the Californian assemblyman who resigned after his sexually-explicit gab was caught on microphone during an assembly session.  Here’s part of his apology:

I am deeply saddened that my inappropriate comments have become a major distraction for my colleagues in the Assembly, who are working hard on the very serious problems facing our state,” he said in a statement posted on his website. “I have come to the conclusion that it would not be fair to my family, my constituents or to my friends on both sides of the aisle to remain in office. Therefore, I have decided to resign my office, effective immediately, so that the Assembly can get back to work.

So noble of him to not want to interfere with the “serious” work our state politicians are doing.  But the beauty is in how his apology is not that he is sorry he is a slime-bag who was cheating on his wife and bragging about it while he was working, but how sorry he is this has turned into a distraction.   I have no illusions that humans are perfect, and politicians are most certainly human, but this constant state of scandals is alone a great reason to wish for a small government.

duvallAnd I’m sorry, but for this blowhard to brag about his affair is too much for me.  Look at yourself dude, were it not for the fact that you are in charge of some money that you can give away to lobbyists, the closest you would get to any tail would be the plus-size models in your wife’s JC Penny intimate’s catalog.  You are a blight to the GOP and I look forward to your future career of managing the McDonald’s near your house.

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Yo La Tengo is my favorite band.   If you’ve never heard them, I suggest you start with “I can hear the heart beating as one” or “And then nothing turned itself inside out.”   Though, as a side note, I cannot make any guarantee that you’ll care for them – I’m always surprised to find that many of my friends who otherwise love great music just can’t get into YLT.  While this discourages me at times, it’s also kind of cool because when I meet someone who loves YLT I know we’re going to be on the same page on a lot of fronts.

But the point of my post is not to extol the virtues of Yo La Tengo as much as to talk about the music they have covered.  Their covers aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but they choose great music to cover, which makes them a great band to follow because they are constantly turning me on to music I otherwise would not have discovered.  So, with that, I present six great Yo La Tengo covers (or great songs Yo La Tengo has covered anyways) and the bands they helped me discover.

1) “A House is not a Motel” by Love


As mentioned in a previous post, Love is one of my all time favorites.  To be fair, I discovered Love independently of this song, but when I realized this cover was buried in YLT’s first album (“Ride the Tiger”) my already bloated estimations of both bands shot up measurably.  YLT’s version is actually pretty pedestrian – I much prefer Love’s version – but if you’d never heard the original then you’d love the cover, which was probably YLT’s intent at the time.

2) “I’m set free” by Velvet Underground


I knew, as I was getting into Yo La Tengo, that they were enormously inspired by the velvets, so I was eager to hear this cover when I first bought YLT’s “Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo.”  I must say that this cover, however, did little to stir up my interest in Velvet Underground- it basically sounded a bit underwhelming given everything I’d heard about the Velvets.  I eventually did dig into the Velvets, however, and learned to love them, and eventually learned to really love this cover.  In fact, as much as I love the Velvet Underground version, I think I might like the YLT version better (in full disclosure I should tell you however that I like YLT better than VU so take me with a grain of salt).

3) “Big Sky,” “Oklahoma, USA” and “Top of the Pops” by The Kinks


I loved “Big Sky” without realizing, for at least a few years, that it was a cover.  The first time I saw YLT in concert they covered “Top of the Pops,” partly in jest.  Still, it caused me to purchase an album that I did not begin to appreciate until many years later – “Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1.”   Basically, it took me a long time to understand how good The Kinks became after their early mod stuff, which kept me captivated for a good long while.   When I finally did come around on “Lola” I really began to understand why YLT loves The Kinks so much.  When I bought “The Village Green Preservation Society” and realized that Big Sky was a Kinks song I felt mixed emotions – on the one hand I thought ‘damn YLT is cool’ and on the other hand ‘wait a minute, has YLT written any good songs of their own?’ (The answer is yes).  As for “Oklahoma, USA” I always knew it was a cover but didn’t think much of it until I finally bought “Muswell Hillbillies” and realized that it’s an incredible song, but that The Kinks version is way better

4) “Take Care” by Big Star

big star

I was already a Big Star fan when I heard this song, but I had never heard the album it’s from – “Sister Lovers”- nor had I heard this song.  This song is so gorgeous (both versions) that I knew I had to track it down as soon as I heard this cover.  The Big Star version is probably my favorite just for the crazy, drunken drumming, though Georgia Hubley’s voice addition to YLT’s version is pretty nectar.

5) “Too Late” by Wire


This cover did not cause me to investigate Wire nor did I realize, once again, that it was a cover tune.  When I did start to really get into Wire, I knew there was something super familiar about this tune, but I could not put my finger on what it was.   Finally, I came back around to listening to “Genius + Love” for the first time in a long time and made the connection.  Now I understand why YLT covered it, even if there’s nothing especially striking about their version.

6) “You Tore Me Down” by the Flaming Groovies

flaming groovies

This song did directly cause me to buy a couple Flaming Groovies records, and I like them quite a bit.  When Jana and I saw YLT in San Francisco a few years ago one of the guys from the Flaming Groovies came on to the stage to perform this tune with the band and it was a pretty cool scene.  Still, this one kind of sneaks in the list because the Flaming Groovies hardly shoot to the top of my mental list of favorite bands.

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