Monthly Archives: April 2018

1001 Songs – 1970: Part Three

This is it, the final batch of songs from 1970. This year has taken a weirdly long time to make my way through, but at least we’re here now.

Into the Mystic – Van Morrison

It’s been two and a half years since I listened to Moondance for the first time, and it’s a downright shame that I haven’t played it anytime since. With ‘Into the Mystic’ I felt myself being immediately being transported back to that sunny day when I listened to this album on my commute.

It’s a great example of folk done right. It tells of a mystical journey and uses the guitar and the horns to unfurl the feeling. It’s weirdly soothing and helps remind me why I liked the parent album so mucn.

Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine – James Brown

“You just don’t like him, do you?” That’s what my husband said to me as I was losing patience with this song as we reached the three minute mark. He’s right.

Whilst I can appreciate that in person James Brown had charisma, on a recording I find a 5 minute song that is just so repetitive to be pretty much unforgiveable. If this song was released now I would wager it would be seen as not even worthy of radioplay.

I know, I know, historical context. James Brown was a big influence and a pusher of his genre. However, when I think back to the work done by Sly and the Family Stone done back in 1969 on their album Stand!… well there’s no comparison.

Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

“Four dead in Ohio” is the refrain at the end of this powerful song about the Kent State shootings; where four students were gunned down by police during a protest against the Vietnam War.

This song was on the radio within a few weeks of the shooting, the lyrics really demonstrating the sense of anger and loss over what happened. At the end you can hear David Crosby breaking.

There are a number of protest and counter-culture songs on the 1001 list, but none so far have felt as raw as this one.

The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon & Garfunkel

It’s interesting that of all the songs on the iconic Bridge over Troubled Water album it is ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ that appears on the 1001 songs list. I mean, there’s the obvious choice from that album… maybe even two. Then again, this is one of the great classic albums so you are spoilt for choice.

One thing that this list does well is find the songs that act as bridges between eras. You have ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ which are very much Simon & Garfunkel songs; then there’s ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ which is where Simon & Garfunkel becomes Paul Simon.

It’s a beautiful song to end such an iconic duo on. Looking back is nice to see this bridge, but at the time the idea of going solo must have been terrifying for both of them. At least it worked out for both of them.

In a Broken Dream – Python Lee Jackson

Why is this on the list? Well, it’s an example of an early song with the vocals of Rod Stewart in a song that is a soft metal. Interesting to note that despite being first released in 1970, ‘In a Broken Dream’ didn’t chart until a re-release in 1972 due to the success of Rod Stewart’s later singles like ‘Maggie May’.

Rock at this time was in an awkward phase. It was still trying to cling on to the organs of the 1960s whilst bring in the guitar solos that would become a staple in the years to come. Makes for an interesting listen when doing this chronologically.

Oh Lonesome Me – Neil Young

After the Gold Rush is such a well received album that it perplexes me that they pick the only cover to appear in this list. The book itself says that this is the standout track from the album. They’re wrong. That song is ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and that’s all there is to it.

54-46 Was My Number – Toots & The Maytals

The moment I heard the ska beat starting I was ready to pack in any attempt to write about this song. But something weird happened, I actually started to like this song.

It’s about the wrongful imprisonment of the lead singer, who was framed by a promoter who didn’t want the tour to go ahead. The song tells this in a traditional call-and-response with the ska beats playing underneath. I don’t know why, but this song actually did this for me.

Working Class Hero – John Lennon

When I first heard ‘Working Class Hero’ last year, it struck me that he’s not a man who I could imagine swearing. Now I listen to this again… it’s fairly dull.

The emotions don’t work because he’s so far removed from who he is trying to connect with. He’s a man of priveledge who, whilst growing up in a working class family, has not been part of that demographic for most of his life. It’s like a Christian writing a song about the Holocaust – it all just rings false.

Box of Rain – The Grateful Dead

Here I am at the end of 1970. It’s a song that I would not have expected from a band whose name feels like it would make for an amazing metal band. Book, cover and all that jazz.

For such a well known band it is interesting to note that this album track is their only entry on the list. A song that is sung by their regular bassist Phil Lesh rather than lead singer Jerry Garcia.

‘Box of Rain’ is a touching folk song that feels like where Neil Young meets Simon & Garfunkel. It’s about Lesh’s father who was dying of terminal cancer and contains lyrics intrpreted from Lesh’s scat singing.

I wish I could say that this song had some profound effect on me… but it didn’t. Nice enough and it does make the connection, but that’s pretty much where this ends.

Progress: 319/1021

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Graphic Content – Mushishi

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
40/501Title: Mushishi
Creator: Yuki Urushibara
Years: 1999-2008
Country: Japan

Well, this may be one of the most magical/mysterious manga that I have ever read. It’s described on Wikipedia as being a supernatural detective story which, whilst true, doesn’t really get to the heart of it.

Mushishi is set a few centuries ago in rural Japan where otherwordly creatures, known as ‘mushi’, exist. The series described mushi as being life in it’s purest form, so pure that few people can actually see them and the mushi themselves take on magical properties. The titular character (a mushishi named Ginko) is a specialist in mushi that travels around solving mushi-related problems.

The whole manga plays like a supernatural procedural with Ginko coming into a village and solving their mushi related problems. This can encompass everything from helping with joint pain to helping people deal with the psychological consequences of their loved one being resurrected.

Whilst there are common themes of light/dark, nature and blindness throughout the 10 volumes, it doesn’t feel that there was any real repetition in the cases found in Mushishi. Whilst it’s not true that every case is unique, there is enough in the variation, development and outcomes to keep it feeling fresh. It also helps that every story has a different type of mushi at the centre.

8 years ago I asked some friends at university about anime that I just had to see. Thanks to this I fell in love with Genshiken and started watching films by Satoshi Kon. Mushishi is the final recommendation from this list I have yet to see and now, since I have read the manga, I will be able to cross this off. Soon. I know I just finished reading this, but I have to see how they dramatised these stories.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Monogatari: Second Season

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 31/100Title: Monogatari: Second Season
Episodes Aired: 26
Year(s): 2013

Aside from the volatility, my major bugbear of using MyAnimeList is that seasons of different anime are listed separately. This is fine for the likes of Gintama and Haikyu as everything from the get go appears within the list. However, for Monogatari: Second Season I needed to make my way through three previous iterations first. So, as I am writing this I am not only talking about Monogatari: Second Season, but also Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari and Nekomonogatari (Black).

The key concept of the Monogatari, whereby a half-vampire high schooler troubleshoots the spirit-based problems of the girls in his social circle, is ultimately an interesting one. Going into this I was expecting a harem anime along the lines of The World God Only Knows, but with a more varied mythology. Needless to say I went into this with high expectations.

For the most part, these expectations were not met.

Of the four iterations that I saw I can honestly say that I found myself really enjoying two of them (Bakemonogatari and Nekomonogatari (Black)) with the other two turning be off because of inconsistency (Nisemonogatari) or the extreme level of under-aged fan service (Monogatari: Second Season).

You see the main character, Koyomi Araragi, is a pervert. Now, there are many enjoyable characters in comedy anime are perverted because there are otherwise socially inept (Daru from Steins;Gate and Kazuma from KonoSuba immediately spring to mind), but with Koyomi the perversion takes a more paedophilic and, sometimes, incestuous quality.

Now, this wasn’t so bad in the first season (Bakemonogatari) or in the Nekomonogatari (Black) side story. In fact, Koyomi was mostly able to act as a proper (anti-)hero and try to save the day to the best of his abilities. There were actual human stories that made real connections… even if the connections were slightly goofy. This was a series I could actually enjoy.

So imagine my joy when the first story arc of Monogatari: Second Season was more along these lines. Then it quickly descended into him being sexually aroused by a 11-year old girl pressing her breasts into his back and I just had had enough.

This is a series with such complex ideas when it comes to philosophy and mythology only to have it be drowned out by an extreme level of fan service. You also have the issue of every conversation taking way too long, which gets tiresome after a while.

The thing is, there is a really great anime here beneath the fan service. Visually this is one of the most striking and original animes I have seen since Paprika. The style takes a while to get used to, but after a while it is truly arresting. Similarly, the Monogatari franchise has some fantastic OPs.

When it does characters and backstories well (like with Hanakawa and Senjōgahara) then this is a really great one to watch. Otherwise, it veers between tedious and off-putting. Such a shame really.

Level One – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 74/100Title: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Developer: Naughty Dog
Original Platform: PS3
Year: 2009

A while ago I tried my hand at the first Uncharted game. I never finished it because whilst I loved the story and puzzle elements it was the combat that got the better of me. The seemingly endless stream of enemies meant that I was left without ammo and without the will to carry on. If the series could improve upon this whilst keeping up the interesting puzzles and world building then Uncharted 2 would be exactly what I am looking for in a game.

Turns out, yes, Uncharted 2 was able to do exactly that whilst also delivering some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen on a seventh generation console. It’s one of those games where you sometimes have to take time out of killing enemies or jumping between train cars in order to admire the work that’s gone into creating the in-game versions of Nepal and Tibet.

In terms of gameplay, I have to say that this is a clear improvement on the first Uncharted and is a lot more accurate and responsive than any of the Assassin’s Creed games that I’ve played. Sure there are times that you find Drake hiding behind a pillar the wrong way or plummeting to his death by accident, but when you think how far we’ve come from the original Tomb Raider game then it feels rather miraculous.

The big draw of Uncharted for me was that it feels like are playing your way through a fantastic adventure film. I mean this is essentially an Indiana Jones video game, just with a far better looking lead (as Pam Poovey from Archer would say: sploosh) and a much longer run time. It’s a game that I found hard to put down and ended up playing in two long sittings.

So yes, with the exception of the annoyingly arbitrary final boss battle, I can really see how this is ranked as the best game from 2009. The whole game just feels completely cinematic in scope where it takes breaks to engage in shoot outs. Having played this I think I should give the original Uncharted a second look, but just have the difficulty turned way down.

XL Popcorn – Full Metal Jacket

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 642/1007
Title: Full Metal Jacket
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1987
Country: UK/USA

Full Metal Jacket. I’m not entirely sure why it took me this long to watch this film, other than wanting to space out the nine Stanley Kubrick entries on the 1001 list, but it is pretty embarrassing. Having now watched it not only have I removed a source of embarrassment, but have also put another director to bed.

Where most cinema-loving people seem to have a hard on for Stanley Kubrick I really have had to look at his films on a case-by-case basis. On the one hand I get why people laud Dr Strangelove, Paths of Glory and The Shining; I am left perplexed by Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  So where does Full Metal Jacket fall on this scale?

Well, I think that’s a two part question. As in this is a film that really needs to be rated in two sections: the first 45 minutes and then everything that comes afterwards. The first section, where we watch the marines being trained for war, is exceptional. R. Lee Ermey is amazing as the drill sergeant (even more so when you read that he improvised most of the insults) and I am amazed that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination there. It’s also worth mentioning Vincent D’Onofrio whose transformation over the first 45 minutes is deeply unsettling.

Then there’s the rest of the film which just pales in comparison to what preceded it. Don’t get me wrong it’s still compelling, but it feels more like a series of loosely related Vietnam war stories than a tight piece of film-making. I guess that there is a point to be made about showing how expendable the marines are once they leave the comparative safety of their training camp, but these points have probably been better made in Apocalypse Now or even Platoon.

So what do you think? Is there a film from the 1001 list where it is shameful that I haven’t seen it yet? Let me know in the comments and it’ll be greatly prioritised.

Good Eatin’ – Devilled Lamb Kidneys

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Lamb Kidney

There really is no excuse for me to have not covered lamb kidneys yet. I’ve repeatedly seen them being sold at my local supermarket, but I never felt in the mood to properly prepare them for cooking purposes. I’ve happily taught children how to dissect them back when I was a science teacher, but the idea of cleaning them and removing the pelvis never appealed to me.

Until now! With it being a nearly a month since my last food item it really is time to step it up and get out of that comfort zone (or just start paying weird amounts of money for cheese).

The question arose about the best way to prepare kidneys. Or it should have, but I went for the first method that came to mind: devilled kidneys. So here we go with a recipe from The Hairy Bikers.

I did not enjoy cutting the pelvis out of these little lamb kidneys. Thankfully they were pre-skinned, but that pelvis is tough to remove. I probably should have proper kitchen scissors instead of using the scissors that I use to help cut wrapping paper. But I don’t tell people these things when I give them Christmas presents.

The smell of the kidneys cooking in the tomato-mustard sauce reminded me a lot of when my mum would make lamb liver and bacon. Lo and behold, lamb kidneys taste a lot like lamb’s liver. It’s just that the kidney’s don’t have that issue of getting tough when overcooking them, they just go through a weird phase of toughness as they cook before getting softer again. No idea why that is… but it’s a strange kidney fact.

If you haven’t tried lamb’s liver or kidneys before, I would say that the taste is rich, meaty and (for the lack of a better word) mature. I can really see why sauces containing mustard or Worcestershire sauce would be needed to cut through some of the taste of the kidneys.

As with all things offal, the taste of kidneys is not for everyone. Even with the sauce, which was great, I felt that the kidneys were a bit too rich for me to eat more than one. I didn’t mind the taste too much, but it was hard to finish the first one without feeling like I had eaten too much already. Maybe lamb kidneys are a bit too… strong/mature for my tastes, but there for go.

Would I have this again? If it was professionally prepared and there was nothing better on the menu, sure. Else, I may not have lamb kidneys again.

Progress: 679/751

Graphic Content – Tex

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
39/501Title: Tex
Creator: Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galleppini
Years: 1948 onwards
Country: Italy

Before I start on this, it’s worth noting that in the 1001 Comics book it has this comic nestled under 1969. I am guessing that my reference book decided to use the date of when this comic was either first translated into English or was first released in the USA. In any case, having read some of the earlier issues of Tex it falls very much into the trappings of a 1940s comic book.

Tex is the first comic I’ve read that falls into the western genre. What sets this apart from the other western comics on the list is that it’s also a spaghetti western with it being originally written in Italian and being based on American western movies. This might go a long way to explain how the depiction of Native Americans and other non-white races feels progressive by the standards of 1940s America. Sure, it’s still cringeworthy at times with most non-whites being subservient to white people and/or being referred to with weird epithets… but it’s still better than other comics at the time.

When you read Tex you’re presented with exactly what you expect – swashbuckling (or whatever the cowboy version of that word is) adventures with bandits, gunfire and peril. Tex also gets his kit off a lot since he is regularly captured and stripped because, you know, cliffhangers. I point this out not because it’s particularly erotic, but because it becomes hard to differentiate the titular Tex from other characters when he isn’t wearing his trademark yellow shirt.

As a comic book it’s fine, but after a while you see how templated a lot of these stories are. It began to get a bit silly the third time the villain was a masked version of a character that Tex had just met, but Tex was unable to connect the dots. It stands to reason that Tex was not a comic meant to be binged the way I did, but that’s the way it goes.

In the end, Tex is fine to read a bit of but there’s plenty of better comics out there.

Acclaimed Albums – Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 144/250Title: Stand!
Artist: Sly and the Family Stone
Year: 1969
Position: #198

Four months ago was the first time that I had ever heard a song by Sly and the Family Stone. It was ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ and, for whatever reason, I figured that this was a piece of joy within a rather political album. Where did this idea come from? No clue, but I rather wrong. Maybe it’s because the title of the album, Stand!, reads like an imperative and this was an era of counterculture and anti-Vietnam feeling… anyway.

If you look at the Acclaimed Albums Top 250 chronologically, Stand! is the first album that can be identified as either funk or psychedelic soul. Despite their being six years between Stand! and the earliest soul album on the list (James Brown Live at the Apollo) there appears to be a world of difference. The soul genre had moved on and begun to diverge… for the better.

You see – where a lot of people seem to like to spontaneity of James Brown, it leaves me cold. I can appreciate the energy, but I end up striving for some sort of structure or for the songs to to be a few minute shorter. On Stand! I was able to find an album that gave me what I wanted in an album that was funk and soul-adjacent, including a song that would be a rather unfortunate karaoke choice.

As good as ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ is, for me the standout song is the first and title track: ‘Stand!’. I love the fact that this is an explosion of soulful glitter with a gospel tinge. It’s one of those songs where it is ridiculously hard not to smile or at least ‘feel the music’. I’m not sure how else to describe the feeling, but it’s a really good one. It’s a feeling that you get throughout the album, which helped make this a joy to listen to.

Let’s Get Literal – The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 42/100Title: The Tin Drum 
Author: Günter Grass
Year: 1959
Country: Germany

So… how do you talk about The Tin Drum? It’s not like any novel that I have read before and, given the challenge I have set myself here, that’s really saying something. I picked up this book for the simple reason that I wanted to read this before I got around to the film adaptation for my 1001 movie watchthrough.

We begin the book in a psychiatric facility where Oskar is writing his memoirs of his life in Danzig (modern-day Gdansk). He has a drum fixation, to the point that he can completely destroy a drum in about a week because of how often and how fervently he drums. With the exception of this and the names of key people in Oskar’s life it is best to take everything you read with a pinch of salt. You see, Oskar is an incredible liar.

As a book The Tin Drum meanders around Oskar’s life as he regales us with various and conflicting episodes in his life. At the age of 3 he supposedly decided to stop growing and instead focus on his drumming. As such he lives his life as a midget… who can shatter glass with his voice and has achieved all matter of weird success because of his superior intellect.

This is also a man where there is a high chance that he has played a large part in the deaths of many people around him who have filled in roles as parental figures. Then again, it’s hard to know this for sure as the story keeps changing all the time.

It is the unreliability of the narrator that really keeps you on your toes and make sure that there is always an interesting yarn in each chapter. I mean, there’s a chapter where the conclusion is a man who is seemingly killed by a haunted ship’s figurehead after trying to have sex with it. We also have a nightclub where people cut onions in order to get through their PTSD and all-seeing and all-knowing dwarves.

The issue I had with this, ultimately, is that it takes Oskar an awfully long time to get to any point. Also, the reason for him ending up in the mental institution feels, ultimately unsatisfying. I was hoping for there to be some sort of murder spree or something at least on that level, but instead it’s a false murder charge with Oskar pretending to be Jesus in order to escape prison.

I can’t imagine that I’ll ever read another book quite like this one and, on that alone, it’s a book that should at least be attempted. Or maybe watch the movie to get a flavour. I don’t know when I’ll get around to it, but hopefully it won’t be too far in the future. Feels like I have some unfinished business with this book.

XL Popcorn – Sedmikrásky

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 641/1007
Title: Sedmikrásky (Daisies)
Director: Věra Chytilová
Year: 1966
Country: Czechoslovakia

I know that I have probably said this a lot over the course of four years… but I’m not entirely sure what I watched. It feels like a 74 minute sketch comedy film starring the 1960s Czech equivalents of Riki Lindholme and Natasha Leggero.

It was interesting to begin with. I was taken in by the anarchic feel of these two 17 year old Czech girls conning sugar daddies and cutting all manner of phallic food with kitchen scissors. After about half an hour of this and I really started to lose interest. There’s only so much of this I can watch a film without the whisper of a narrative before I start to get a bit bored of shenanigans.

And that’s that Sedmikrásky is: shenanigans. Entertaining shenanigans that I would have enjoyed more if they were broken down in a series of short films, but shenanigans none the less.

However, it’s worth noting that despite how weird, yet ultimately harmless, this film was it was enough to get director Věra Chytilová a 9 year ban from making films in her home nation of Czechoslovakia. Allegedly this was due to the sheer waste of food throughout the film (the food fight scene at the end being the last nail in the coffin), which makes a little sense given the political climate. You also have the fact that this is pretty feminist in how the two girls approach the world around then. This would have likely not gone down too well with the Czech elites of the time.

It’s a weird film, yes, and worth watching to play a game of ‘spot the controversy’. However, it’s best digested in a few pieces rather than in one go. Or maybe that’s just me.