Friday, December 14, 2007

Best of 2007 (1) "So wait for the stone on your window...your window..."

Everybody's heard the story. The Decemberists were a indie band from Portland, Oregon that had the nerve to do a concept album based on the ancient Irish epic The Tain. That was late 2004 and I, ever the intrepid Horslips fan I, went to see these upstarts at the Great American Music Hall.

And walked away with four of their early efforts.

But like Peter before the crowing cock, I denied them within the Horslips circle of fans and quietly muffled my own opinions that a great epic can have many versions and perhaps even needed one from an American band struggling to give voice to alternative viewpoints in the shadow of the early years of Iraq.

2007 found the Decemberists on a major label, with sell-out gigs at the Village in Dublin and at the Warfield in San Francisco, and on sale at the counters of Starbucks across the nation. That an album featuring the deeply chilling ballad "Shankill Butchers" could sit side by side with biscotti and half-dipped dark-chocolate madeleines of the Frappacinos and half-caf mochas of the world should surely be one of the year's signature moments.

I had the opportunity to hear Colin Meloy sing an acoustic version of this on KFOGs morning show. Romeo and Juliet in South Central. Same as it ever was...

Friday, December 07, 2007

"He kept a shop in London town,

Of fancy clients and good renown..."

A recent splash ad on MySpace tells me there's a new Johnny Depp movie in the offing. A Tim Burton/Johnny Depp venture, which should be about as good as it gets. And perfect for the holidays too: a musical in a nineteenth century London setting. That's Dickens Town, by golly! City of chimney sweeps and cherubic pickpockets and parlor games at the nephew’s and Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, casting a universal benediction on us all. Or, even later along in the century, a child’s deceptive haven of waistcoated rabbits visiting from Oxford and mischievous pixie fairies who live in the Park. Where nannies float down from the coal-soot skies and little lost boys in search of their shadows tap on the nursery windowpane.

But, of course, Mr. Depp is not giving us a new Ebenezer or Mr. Banks or Captain Hook (though the last IS a thought...just sayin'). Instead, his own gallery of risky performances will now include the doomed story of Benjamin Barker, Fleet Street barber convicted of a false crime and sent to Australia. But escaped, and returning home and searching for wife long lost and child long grown.

London London London. Damn me. London.

My first trip over in July 2002, I spent two days on my own in London. World Cup Weekend it was. Using Travelocity, I originally booked some delightful sounding place, but co-workers reading the postal code on my reservation form told me I was well away from City center. So a hasty reshuffling landed me the only reasonable vacancy, something near the Gloucester Station on Cromwell Road (yeah, not forgetting that soon). Later I realized from reading Mrs. Palfrey, a novel by Elizabeth Taylor (No. Not THAT Elizabeth Taylor. The other one.), that I might have been staying in what was more akin to pensioners housing offering a semblance of self-sufficiency in the City and a tenuous toe-hold on middle class respectability. Which would explain the enormous pile of empty gin bottles collecting on the back stoop. But it was cheap and within (what I, urban hill-climber that I am, considered) walking distance to Harrods.

After checking in early in the mid-morning, I headed off in a quest of food and City fun. Slight confusion as the streets twisted and turned about and I was seeing less commercial and more residential and a directional sign saying "Shepherd's Bush" and, drawing on my history of the Who, I knew I was headed in the wrong direction. Back again and finding the Gloucester Station shopping area, I went inside to the first lunch counter I saw and ordered a meat pie. When it arrived, all steamy and flaking, I crooned down to it: "Mrs. Mooney has a pie shop. Does a business, but I've noticed something weird. Lately all her neighbors' cats have disappeared. Wouldn't do in my shop! Just the thought of it is enough to make you sick. And I'm tellin' you...them pussy cats is quick!" And the waitperson behind the counter hustled me out into the street.

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd...

Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece. Listen ye, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and grovel before it.

What doesn't this musical have? Escaped convict, vengeance, lust, barber chairs and medicine shows, cannibalism, madhouses and lunatics, sailors and holiday seaside songs, beggar women whores, corrupt government officials, true love and tragedy. And meat pies. God, that’s good.

Still, I'll confess that I'm more than a little worried about Helena Bonham Carter here. We're not seeing much of her in the preview and we're hearing less. Mind you, I saw the great Lansbury her very own self bring the doting, daffy and quite dangerous Mrs. Lovett to life on the stage in '79. And this after weeks of listening to the original Broadway cast recording of the whole thing so that I would know each bawdy pun and wheedling caress of her voice by heart and can type all this from memory even now.* A canny businesswoman, first and always: "What's my secret? Frankly dear, forgive me candor. Family secret. All to do with herbs. (And mind, now: pronounce that 'H') Things like bein' careful with your coriander. That’s what makes the gravy grander!" A tender mother's heart of tatted doilies and seaside mementos denied its rightful place in the safe haven of home and family: "Nothing's going to harm you, Toby, not while I'm around." A spurned and desperate lover: "Your Lucy! A crazy hag picking bones and rotten spuds out of alley ashcans? Would you wanted to know she ended like that? Yes, I lied because I love you. I've been TWICE the wife she was! Could that THING have cared for you like me...?"

Oh it's a GREAT role. Ms. Carter better be up to it!

But I'm not in London this December. That's breaking a personal record, though we have hopes for January. Still, if I'm not there, the Duke de Mondo is and I’m trying my level best to not be consumed with a deep, resentful envy as a result. Which makes it all the harder to say that his new blog London in Broken C is every bit as good as anything he's written in the past. As with his Dublin of Sinead and the Savage Purple and hometown Belfast, another world-famous metropolis has found in the Duke an able chronicler for the new millennium of all of its wild attractions, its inexplicable eccentricities and its ageless sorrows.

*I'm onboard the Mendocino at this very moment, so there's no Google on hand to double-check. Of course, I could only post this later when next online, but I swear: straight from memory.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

ByeSpace? (2) "I am a Rock, I am an Island..."

And I am a Vampire (Catholic Schoolgirl class); right-brained; attending the world's largest Octoberfest; in possession of an IQ 15 points lower than my friend Mal McGinley of Antrim; in a torrid 'poking' contest with photographer Sean Hennessy; a member in good standing of the HUGE Horslips and Horslypse fanclub; and rating local restaurants and my exhaustive CD collection.

Yes, I am on Facebook.

Sometime in October, Birmingham-based guitarist Joe Forde enticed me over to Facebook, the social networking site eclipsing ole MySpace in the buzz. By November, something else was eclipsing Facebook, (It's LinkedIn my coworkers affirm and I'm there too, but strictly for professional reasons. No Zombie Games need apply.) but I found myself enjoying it anyway. Until the constant round of apps started piling up and I thought "What am I to my friends? Some 'chump' (that's a vampire victim in the game, actually) who's gonna sit down and participate in every little interactive piece of stickiness that a Silicon Valley nerd came up with on their lunch hour?

Facebook Fatigue hit approximately 26.5 days after signing up. I needed to go somewhere quiet to rest. And so, back to MySpace. Where the honest hustle of flash animated ads of Britney Spears being shaved by that creepy looking doctor felt almost like instant nostalgia. I logged on. THESE were my real friends!

And bloody hell! I had over 480 of them! Who ARE these people? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that we all have a ceiling on the personal contacts we can manage to maintain in our lives. That number: 150.

I had nearly 500 in the Horslips profile alone. 220 in my poetry/lit profile. And nearly 1500 in the Irish pub and ballad profile. Quoting Joni Mitchell:

"I do my best
And I do good business
There's a lot of people asking for my time
They're trying to get ahead
They're trying to be a good friend of mine"

And trust me: after the first few weeks in '06 of making friends with friends, I vetted each request carefully with the following guidelines:

  1. if you are a voluptuous blonde with an 'i' ending first name (Candi, Brandi, Bambi, etc), you better have at least The Waterboys listed as one of your favorite bands
  2. if you are a young, sculpted, dark-haired lad with puppy-dog eyes and a Mediterranean tan, it doesn't necessarily have to be The Waterboys. Big Country will suffice.

Seriously, I did use the following as warning signs to quickly cull some of requests:

  1. obvious political banners/mottoes/messages.
  2. band that falls completely outside of the genres I've indicated interest in.
  3. band with more than 1,000 friends (harsh because I had 1,300 friends myself by this point on the pub profile -- but remember: I'm not the one out there building a mass mailing list).
  4. band that isn't based in Ireland/Scotland/England/Wales or the great pub cities of America. Recently added Germany and Netherlands as "I'll give your song a longer listen" countries because I am digging some of the great stuff from those scenes!
  5. excessive use of glitter gifs in profile/avatars.
  6. Ponies and seascapes are a warning sign too.
  7. anyone who hasn't bothered to edit their profile beyond the basic "Tom of MySpace" look.
  8. anyone who hasn't bothered to kick Tom out of their Top Eight friends.
  9. anyone who mentions "real estate" "vitamins" "investment" in their 'About Me' section.
  10. guns or balaclavas in profile/avatars. Click. (But do LOVE the new Artic Monkeys song!)
  11. red font on black background is not Goth. It is just hard to read. Click.
  12. same thing goes for the jpeg that's too small to tile as wallpaper attractively. Click.
  13. the American flag is inspiring, true, and we all love eagles. But. In. Moderation. Click!!
  14. I'm sorry, was that Loreena McKennitt I saw listed in your influences? SO click.
  15. Yes, I'm proud to be Irish and/or American too, but I don't seem to need to mention it quite so often!
  16. okay, you know, everyone else's MySpace page only took two seconds to load. What was the freakin' hold-up with yours? Believe me, it wasn't worth the wait.
    (Here's the actual page that generated this part of my rant: blueflashinglightmeup)

This is not to say that I haven't made firm, fast friends with some people who broke these rules. For example, The Guireans of Sandwick, Isle of Lewis have done f*ck all for style and presentation on their MySpace page, but they are head and shoulders above any other friend I made for inventiveness, originality and true artistic achievement:

The Guireans

Yet even with this stringent guideline, I still find myself up to the neck in chain letter bulletins and self-advertising comments. And now is the time I'm expected to go around and wish Holiday greetings to the lot.

480 friends? Caroline Astor managed with just 400 and she had a big house. It was time to start cleaning mine.

(Stay Tuned)