Monthly Archives: November 2009

Christmas In the Heart – Bob Dylan

What’s the oddest thing about Christmas In the Heart?  The fact that Bob Dylan didn’t record a Christmas album when he was a born-again Christian or the fact that a Bob Dylan Christmas album actually exists?   I’m going with the sheer existence of such an album.  But really, upon consideration of Dylan’s fascination with Americana it’s not that surprising.  Especially if you look at the songs he has on the album – mostly traditional Christmas songs.  

Almost every one who doesn’t like Dylan (or only like him casually) will comment on his voice.  But really, commenting that Dylan can’t sing is such an old argument.  (I for one think he actually can, and happen to like his voice.)  But as always, there are ways that Dylan sings and performs that only he can get away with.  Which in this case, give an interesting twist on traditional Holiday favorites.  Most of the songs are low-key in a folksy way, with the exception of the polka-blast of “Must Be Santa” – which is already destined to become a Holiday classic with it’s sing-along chorus. It’s amusing to hear Dylan pronounce Christmas as “Chris-mussssss” or muse “that we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” at the end of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Do You Hear What I Hear? is almost funny when Dylan asks, “Do you know what I know?”  or instructs us to “Listen to what I say.”  As always with Christmas albums, Little Drummer Boy needs to go in a moratorium.   There are only two people have done a good version of that song – Bing Crosby was one.  David Bowie was the other.  

Overall, it’s pretty much what I expected.  That being said, it’s already in my top 3 Christmas albums of all time.  (For what it’s worth my list goes like this: A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, and Dylan.)

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Hellooooo Everybody!

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!  Followed by The Wire and Mad Men, Sesame Street is my third favorite television show of all time.  I know it seems absurd that a children’s television show is put into a category that contains a show about the drug-trade and another about a sexist work environment.  But the common thread among all three shows is they are all brilliant.  

Earlier this year, I read Street Gang – The Complete History of Sesame Street.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be.I  I was expecting a run-down of the origins of the Muppets.  In fact,  they are barely mentioned. The first 150 pages focus just on the show’s conception. For instance, it began as a way to bring educational programming to inner-city youth.  This is why Sesame Street is kind of dirty and dingy.  It was designed to portray a world that inner-city children could relate to.  (That’s why I dislike the *new* Sesame Street where everything is sanitized, and Cookie Monster only eats “cookies sometimes.”)  It kind of takes away from the original idea.  

Obviously, I loved Sesame Street as a kid.  But when I got the “Old School” DVDs, I was surprised at how much I still like it at 27.  The humor that makes learning fun for kids is also entertaining for adults, but the perspective of it has changed for me.  Forget all of this Ernie and Bert are gay bullshit.  What I want to know is – how did they pay rent?  Kermit and Grover have jobs, so why don’t they?

When I was younger, I used to love Ernie (and I still do).  But now I like Bert more in all his up-tight glory.  His reactions to Ernie’s pranks never get old.  In every skit, you know he is going to blow his top and get pissed – but the laughter comes from his reaction.  The same with Cookie Monster.  You know he is going to go crazy over cookies.  But it’s hysterical to watch him devour everything from a truck to a type-writer in the process.  

Sesame Street was,of course ground-breaking on many levels.  It made learning fun.  A lot of kids learn more when they think they’re not learning.  I’m not suggesting Sesame Street tricked them into learning, but it took them on a ride where learning could be fun and engaging.  And let’s not forget the multi-racial cast.  Everyone at Sesame Street was made to feel welcome and that was exactly the point.  No one is excluded.  And here’s the real magic of Sesame Street: It made kids smarter, but also made adults feel like kids again.  No one so many celebrities and musicians showed up from time to time. 

And for proof here’s one of my favorite clips featuring Johnny Cash:

And another where Cookie Monster goes on a classic rampage:

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Julian Casablancas

I was just in Baltimore’s Soundgarden (which by the way is one of the best record stores in the Maryland area) and heard one of Julian Casablancas’ new songs from his solo album, Phrazes For The Young.  I’m not the biggest fan of the Strokes – I think they had a great debut, but Room on Fire more of a rehash of the same, with a couple of good songs thrown in for good measure.  The ones that sounded the best were the ones that didn’t sound like Is This It.  I just kind of wrote them off after that.  (Although Albert Hammond’s Yours To Keep was pretty good even if it sound like the Strokes.)  I just assumed that Casablancas would write another Strokes album with his name replacing the band.  Not that far fetched considering he wrote all the songs anyway.    

I was actually quite surprised by what I heard. Casablancas has a pretty distinct voice, so it was easy to tell it was him singing, but the music was pretty removed from the garage-rock rivial of the Strokes.  Instead of fuzzed out guitars, “The Tourist” was propelled by a drum-loop and that kept pounding, and keyboards. The bridge was pretty interesting as well – containing more keyboards and and synthesizers that sounded like they belonged on a Mega Man Video game.  It was quite eerie and catchy at the same time.  Not something that I was expecting from Casablancas.  I’m interested to hear the rest some point soon, but I ended up buying Elvis Costello’s Secret Profane, and Sugarcane instead only because that was what I came in for.

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U2 and Jay-Z Together

Happy Friday!  This is fucking awesome.  Seriously only U2 can perform with Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z in the same week.  More later, but enjoy this for now.

 

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This Might Be the Funniest Performance Ever

Had a quite a laugh over this performance.  And I thought they were bad before:

 

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Looking Back on Sesame Street

I read this article from CNN today, and it makes me slightly sad that Sesame Street has changed so much.   It was supposed to dirty and grimy – it was designed to appeal to kids in the inner-city.   (Even its original cast was portrayed specifically with that in mind.  A pretty radical idea in the late 1960’s.) That was part of the original concept of Sesame Street.  Jim Henson  was super protective of Sesame Street – so much that when Michael Eisner wanted to purchase the Muppets, Jim Henson insisted that the Sesame Street Muppets not be part of the deal.  

At 27, I have an almost strange obsession with Sesame Street.  There are tons of t-shirts with Sesame Street characters on them that you can purchase at Target (I have a couple, actually) play into a generation’s appetite for all things retro.  There’s many reasons though, why Sesame Street is the most beloved of all children’s shows.  I could go on, and cite excerpts from Street Gang – The Complete History of Sesame Street as proof.  

But it’s interesting to watch the original episodes of Sesame Street as an adult, and see how weird, original, and brilliant it was.  There’s a lot of cultural references and satires within Sesame Street that I had no idea of when I was a kid.  I had no idea that Cookie Monster’s Allistar Cookie was a take on Masterpiece Theater.  (Just as I imagine that today, kids have no idea of Sesame Street playing on Mad Men a little while back.)  Grover over the course of the show, has held more jobs than most people have had in their lifetime.  Kermit’s inept take on a news reporter on Sesame Street News Flash is hysterical.  He’s often see eating as the camera starts rolling and interviews everyone from Rapunzel, young George Washington, to Christopher Columbus.  

Two of my favorite characters of the show (Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch) have seen quite a few changes over the years.  I don’t buy into the bullshit that Cookie Monster encourages mass consumption of cookies, and perhaps childhood obesity.  Kids know that he is a monster, and if you really think that Cookie Monster makes kids eat tons of cookie, there would also be an epidemic of kids eating telephones, cars, and typewriters.  As far as I know, there hasn’t been.  But in watching the old episodes, I still laugh every time Cookie Monster screams out “Cooooookie!” and goes berserk.  Concerning Oscar the Grouch, the creators might as well do away with him if he is even remotely warm and fuzzy.  He’s a fucking grouch!  (I actually would like to be Oscar when I get old.  He’s kind of my hero in a way.)  

Even before Henson died, Elmo killed a lot of what was good in the show.  He was too child-like.  All of the Muppet characters were childlike in their own way, but they weren’t downright dumb.  And Big Bird filled the “every day kid” role already.  (By the way, Big Bird was every kid’s first introduction to androdgny).  Cookie Monster represented kid’s obsessiveness, Grover portrayed willingness to help others but not being able to for various reasons.    

(D0n’t be surprised if I write more on Sesame on the 10th – their 40th Anniversary.  But for now here’s a few of my favorite segments.)

Telephone Rock:

Kermit the Frog, Cookie Monster and the Mystery Box:

Ernie and Bert: (Audio is a little bit off, but this is classic)

Kermit and Grover:

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NME Calls “Nevermind” Overrated. I agree.

Luke Lewis blog on NME’s website says what I’ve been saying for years – Nirvana’s Nevermind is overrated.  While I love lists of best albums and songs, I’m always frustrated that Nirvana is at the top of the list.  I admit that I liked them when I was younger, their music is good for that.  Many teenagers have their Led Zeppelin and Nirvana phase.  You know – the phase where all they every think about is sex (see Led Zeppelin) or feel angry (see Nirvana.)

I love when musicians talk about the album in retrospect and suggest that it was “so raw”.  Please.  Anybody ever listen to Raw Power?  It’s also laughable that Kurt Cobain is considered a great guitarist.  But as far as influence goes, I think Nirvana’s influence gave rock music one of its worst genres – post grunge.  Bands like Creed, Nickleback, Shinedown, Papa Roach and other insist on using the soft verse/loud chorus song arrangement like they’ve never a song written any other way.  

That being said, I don’t totally hate Nirvana.  I think their Unplugged CD is great.  But unfortunately at the same time, the best performances also happen to be the songs that aren’t theirs.

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