Friday, February 17, 2012

Sacrificing Like Lambs

Counting Crows
August and Everything After
1993, Geffen
produced by T-Bone Burnett

Adam Duritz - vocals, piano, harmonica
Matt Malley - bass
Chris Gillingham - piano, organ, accordion
Steve Bowman - drums
David Bryson - guitars

  • Mr. Jones/ Raining in Baltimore/ Rain King
  • Round Here/ Ghost Train/ Ghost in You
  • Rain King/ Anna Begins/ Round Here
  • Murder of One
The Counting Crows debut album is quite possibly their best. The single to this album is one of the first songs I had ever connected to someone else. Mr. Jones was a pretty popular radio hit when it was released, and I remember screwing around in gym class which ended in spontaneous song... this song, sung loudly and badly by two school kids. I can't remember her name now, but I do remember we went to church together, and I remember hearing it on the radio afterwards and remembering that particular gym class. 

Anyway, this album would be forgotten until high school when a friend of mine would play Raining in Baltimore and Anna Begins on the school piano, I found a renewed appreciation for it. The songs are certainly deeper and more contemplative than normal radio hits at the time. Besides, you don't have to rock out all the time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Celtics All-Time Greats: an addendum

Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird on the Celtics all time scoring list recently.  In response to that, ESPN asked Bill Simmons to list his top ten all time Celtics greats.  ESPN put up a video with Simmons explaining his choices, but the video no longer exists.  You'll remember, I wrote something about this before, when Prince Charles left Pierce off his own list of the greatest Celtics a few years ago.

Bill Simmons list is as follows:

10: Robert Parish
9: Bill Sharman
8: Paul Pierce
7: Kevin McHale
6: Sam Jones
5: Dave Cowens
4: Bob Cousy
3: John Havlicek
2: Larry Bird
1: Bill Russel

The other day, Simmons interviewed Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe on the BS Report, and they talked about the same thing.  Bob Ryan gave his top 5, and also mentioned McHale, Sam Jones, and Dave Cowens.  His list is below.

5: Paul Pierce
4: Bob Cousy
3: John Havlicek
2: Larry Bird
1: Bill Russel

Later in the interview, Ryan confirms that he will hang up his shoes after the London Olympics after a 42 year career in Boston.  Not many writers understand the game like he does.  He will be missed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

If I Get Out of These Blues Alive

Hot Tuna
Hot Tuna
1970, RCA
produced by Al Schmidt

Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, vocals
Jack Cassady - bass
Will Scarlet - harmonica

I love this album. There is nothing bad to say about it.  It's live and ass kicking. It is also known as "the broken glass album". Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy were always about the old school blues, especially their favorite blues man, the Reverend Blind Gary Davis. This album encompasses what I think of when I think of the blues, acoustic, performed in a smoky bar environment. Most of the tracks are blues standards, covers, with two Kaukonen originals on the 1st edition, and two more originals from later studio albums on the rerelease. The 12 bar blues is simple, and yet the acoustic guitar, grinding gritty bass, and harmonica play off each other in such a complex way that one is in awe that such a sound comes out of only three guys. There are other good Tuna albums, and other good blues albums, but this one will always be my favorite.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Can't Avoid This Bum Rush!

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
1988, Def Jam
produced by Rick Rubin and Hank Shocklee

Chuck D
Flava Flav
Terminator X
Johnny Juice Rosado
  • Rebel Without a Pause
  • Bring the Noise
  • Don't Believe the Hype
  • Night of the Living Baseheads
  • Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Yeah, Boy!  Bring the Noise!  I will be honest.  I decided to check out Public Enemy after listening to the Rage Against the Machine People of the Sun EP which featured a cover of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos with a Chuck D guest appearance.  This was also around the time that Flavor Flav began his ridiculous reality television career.  So... obviously buying this album was a great idea.

Produced by the Bombsquad and legendary Rick Rubin, this album features several Public Enemy classics, and also has a Flavor Flav solo track (Cold Lampin with Flavor) which proves he isn't completely clown shoes. The idea was to produce music that was fast paced, in your face, and full of rage. Bring the Noise encapsuled the entire philosophy of the record, that music is just organized noise.

The record is #3 on Slant's list of best albums of the '80s, #2 on Spex's list of best records in the 20th century, #7 on Q's list of best albums of the 80's, #48 on Rolling Stone's 500 best, and made Time's list of 100 best records. Kurt Cobain included it in his top 25 influential records.

Only as Strong as the Villain

I've written about arguably the best hero/anti-hero in the history of comics before. The Batman was introduced in 1939 by DC comics in their Detective Comics issue number 27. The creation of Batman was influenced obviously by Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, The Shadow, and the Phantom, and less obviously by Sherlock Holmes and Doc Savage.

However, as I've stated before, what has made this particular hero the most popular among the pulp heroes listed above is not so much the flying rodent paraphanalia, or even the comic medium, but rather his villian/rogues gallery. For example, the most famous Sherlock Holmes villain is Dr. Moriarty, but most would have trouble identifying another. I'd be surprised if anyone could name a Doc Savage villain (John Sunlight), or Zorro, or The Shadow (he knows, though, he knows). I've decided to write a few posts about a few of my favorite villains, and about why they are so intriguing, and which versions of said villain I like the best.

The Joker is a good place to start.

Created by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and possibly Bill Finger too, the Joker made his debut in Batman #1 in 1940. This same issue also debuted Catwoman. The original premise of the character was a highly intelligent, yet psychotic master criminal (not unlike Professor Moriarty) with a warped, dark sense of humor. The character has, over time, flip-flopped from this original premise to a lighter, campier, prankster, and back again, depending on the era, and the medium. Some writers seem to have a difficulty portraying the character as dangerously intelligent, and also obsessed with punchlines. Often, I find myself frustrated with how the Joker character is written. He has come, recently, full circle with the help of Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger, not only readopting and solidifying the intelligent psychotic persona, but adding an element of Chaos personified.  

There have been attempts in the past, and I'm sure in the future as well, to try and fit the character into some sort of profile. There have been several attempts to give the character an origin, which I don't believe is necessary, and takes away from the twisted, chaotic nature of the character. Chaos has no origin story. A Joker origin gives him a timeline, and a timeline is order, which is not chaos.  

There have been other things writers have attempted to add to the Joker's character and storyline that I try and dismiss as silly. For example, there is no reason for creating children for this character.  Duela Dent was a stupid idea. Also, having him team up with other villains never made sense to me either, he doesn't seem to be the type of character to take orders, or play a role. Harley Quinn is really the only exception, but she's an interesting character for other reasons.  

There have been a few cool additions to the character that I found interesting and should be explored more. In the Dark Knight film, Heath Ledger's character tells the story of how he "got these scars" differently each time, much like in the Killing Joke by Alan Moore when the Joker states that sometimes he remembers his origin one way and sometimes another.  

There has also been an idea poised by writer Grant Morrison, that the Joker is not insane at all, but lacked a personality all his own. He has to continuously adapt his psyche, which explains why it appears that the Joker transitions often from dangerous super criminal, to campy joking prankster so many times in his published career. It seems like just a gimmick to make continuity make sense. Sometimes obsession with continuity leads comic writers to make bad decisions. There is another theory that the Joker is actually super sane, and works on a separate level than everyone else. The Dark Knight brings this idea up at the end of the film, when Batman tells the Joker "there's nothing wrong with you".  

After considering all of this, the Joker is definitely worthy of being the most recognizable, most important foil for the Batman. And given how the portrayal of the character has been trending from Caesar Romero Joker, and Mark Hamil's animated series Joker back to the 1939 homicidal maniac Joker blended with the Heath Ledger lone agent of Chaos character, things are looking good for this Batman villian.