Wednesday, April 15, 2009

War and Peace and Henry Fonda

About 800 pages into War and Peace now and more and more believing that I loved it the first time around on its own merits and not purely the context for the reading. Yes, the characters are all still rich, still often largely clueless, and still worlds removed from me, but they're also, with every chapter, increasingly human.

I took some time to read Paul Williams Love to Burn and the first two Performing Artist books he wrote on Dylan (more on those three books later), as well as Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends collection, but I'm trying to keep my focus on Tolstoy for the next couple of weeks.

But that's not the point.

The point is that I read today that in the big ol' midcentury American film of War and Peace, someone chose Henry Fonda to play Pierre.

And that's idiotic. No matter his other qualities as a person, the novel insists, again and again, that Pierre is fat. Really fat. His bulk must be mentioned at least once in every one of his chapters. And yet, Henry Fonda.

That's not inspired counter-casting, like bringing him in to play Frank in Leone's amazing Once Upon a Time in the West. It's just a mistake, as bad as casting Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby.

Friday, April 3, 2009


I finally figured out a running order for a revised Infidels that I'm relatively happy with.

Not that this changes the world or anything, but here's the tracklist:

Side A:

License to Kill
Sweetheart Like You
Man of Peace
Lord, Protect My Child

Side B:

Foot of Pride
I and I
Blind Willie McTell
Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight

I'm even satisfied with it on a single CD without the side breaks. The key, it turned out, was keeping "Man of Peace," which I had always left off of previous attempts. It's not a great song, necessarily, and certainly outclassed by its contemporaries, but it's also, I think, necessary to hold the thing together. It keeps the first side from dragging too much.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prog Rock Glory

Thanks to a roundabout link from a link from a link to a link, I happened upon what everyone else in the world, in the Facebook Nation, has already done: the album cover generation cultural meme game internet funkness. So I played along. Who doesn't like two minutes of diversion, especially when those two minutes cloak themselves in a quasi-scavengerhunt costume.

Here's how it works:

1. Get a random Wikipedia page. That's the name of your band.
2. Get a random quotation. The last four or five words of the last quote of the page is the title of the band's album.
3. Get a random flickr photo. The third picture, no matter what it is, is your album cover.

And, should you wish, you can then Photoshop the bajeezus out of the photo, layering in your band's name, your album title, etc.

Fantastic. It's Wu-Name magic.

Here's what I came up with:

Garden of Allah: As If Men Were Listening

Of course, it didn't stop there: the two minutes it took to click through (and revel) then became twenty minutes of imagining the sound, the biography, the press materials, and potential reviews of the album. But, really, when you're given such a gift as that name, that title, and that photo, how can you not play with it?

At first I thought the band would be a lost one-album wonder from early 1970s England, another anonymous pastoral-prog outfit with its roots in fuzzy psychedelia but attempting to hitch a ride on Ian Anderson's flute by playing a lot of acoustic intros to otherwise riff-heavy songs, and to capitalize on the fact that the bass player once shared a flat with one of the guys from Caravan.

But then I saw that album cover, screaming its allegiance to the digital Now, to 37 minutes with Photoshop, and the bio shifted, jumped thirty years forward.

It turns out that Vancouver, as I imagined it, has a crazy underground progrock scene (rife with divisions between the folk-proggers, the neo-metal proggers, the secret Rush fans, the obscure Italian scenesters, and those who hold all their rehearsals in German). Garden of Allah, first formed in 1999, initially fancied itself a King's X-style power trio, but has since added two members -- keyboard and a multi-instrumentalist who plays mandolin, mandocello, and mellotron -- and now swears allegiance to all things Frippish, but sounds like a poor man's Tull.

As if Men Were Listening is a concept album of sorts, albeit one whose storyline is much more suggestive than overt, perhaps a nod to Roy Harper circa Stormcock (and, in fact, on the band's My Space page, you can download a cover of Harper's "The Same Old Rock.") Both of the side-long suites open with acoustic passages, decorated with the occasional mandolin riff, building to grandiose segments of layered vocals, crashing electric chords and, inevitably, an organ solo. The tracklisting:

1. Millenial Blues
A. White Saturday
B. Time's Passion
C. The Shadow of History
D. Year of the Manticore

2. Infinite Regress (a fragment)

3. Eight Stones Left
A. The Lonely Iconoclast
B. Humanity's Fountain
C. Never the Shire
D. Twilight Oracle

4. The Future is Then (finale)

Signing off with a Wu-Name flashback: The Illegitimate Muslim Fundamentalist is over and out.