Welcome

Thank you for visiting 2nd First Look! Check out our latest post on our Home page. You can also read dozens of more articles on film, television, music, literature, gaming, and the arts by clicking on the designated buttons. We'd love to hear your opinions so make sure to leave comments!

2014/03/30

Rush: Exit...Stage Left

by Jav Rivera

One night, in the mid-90s, I was hanging out at my friend's home. She had invited other people over, and I supposed these things are called "parties". I was never a party kind of guy and I arrived early. At the time, radio was very much about playing hip hop or watered-down alternative pop. I thought to myself that maybe other people would share my interest in avoiding pop radio. So I brought some CDs to play in case these other invitees - none of whom I knew - wanted to hear good music. When they arrived I had already been playing one of my favorite albums, "2112" by Rush. If anyone has heard this album, you already know why this story is embarrassing. At the 12 or 13 minute mark of the title track, some guy turned to my friend and asked in an agitated voice, "What is this?" Obviously he wasn't intrigued. I was sitting somewhat close to the radio and I'm sure I turned red. I tried to act nonchalant and said to my friend, "It's not for everyone." I took out the CD and left the area. I don't remember much else from that night.

I've had my fair share of embarrassing moments, but this one in particular is a perfect description of why the band Rush never got past cult status. Although they've had commercial success, in particular with their album, "Moving Pictures" thanks to their hit song, "Tom Sawyer," Rush was never a pop band. The majority of their albums are an acquired taste.

Rush was founded by Geddy Lee (vocals, synthesizers, bass), Alex Lifeson (guitars), and John Rutsey (drums). After replacing Rutsey with Neil Peart in 1974, the Canadian trio has remained together ever since. And though there's not an exact name for their style, it's safe to place them within the Rock category.


L-R: Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, and Geddy Lee (then)
L-R: Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson (now)
With a catalog as extensive as Rush's, it's difficult to choose an album, or list of tracks, to focus on within one article. Instead, I'll focus on their 1981 live album, "Exit...Stage Left." Even though I had been familiar with some of their music, it wasn't until my late high school years that I discovered "Exit...Stage Left". It remains one of my favorite live albums from any band, and is an incredible introduction to a rock band with literary and science fiction sensibilities.


The track list for "Exit...Stage Left" includes:

1. The Spirit Of Radio
2. Red Barchetta
3. YYZ
4. A Passage To Bangkok (not included on original CD release)
5. Closer To The Heart
6. Beneath, Between & Behind
7. Jacob's Ladder
8. Broon's Bane
9. The Trees
10. Xanadu
11. Freewill
12. Tom Sawyer
13. La Villa Strangiato

Below are some of my favorites from this list. Starting with the first track, "The Spirit of Radio," Rush kicks off this live album with full energy. Lifeson's guitar riff gets the heart pumping in such a way that, as a listener, you wonder how the album could start with any other track. And honestly, it couldn't - it had to be "Spirit of Radio." Within a few bars, Peart and Lee join in, and after its initial introduction with the drums stumbling and bass jazzing around, the song is well on its way. The music is exhilarating and performed by three incredible craftsmen. The lyrics speak of the freedom of music, and of the restrictions of criticism. In other words, music shouldn't be about profits, and about believing what people say about the music. Music is an individual thing and it allows you the ability to love the music that makes you happy. A great message, coming from a band who never received praise from critics, and yet have maintained a solid fan base.



Another personal favorite track is the instrumental, "Broon's Bane", which is somewhat of an extended introduction to the track "The Trees". Titled after their music producer, Terry "Broon" Brown, the track is a beautifully written piece by Alex Lifeson. The acoustical piece has a dark feel to it, highlighted by touching moments. Though Lifeson is known by fans as a great guitarist, he's generally underrated. This piece showcases his playing, sensitivity, and song-crafting abilities. The track is followed by one of the best renditions of "The Trees". The song is an unsubtle metaphor for the struggle between upper and lower class cultures. Musically the track ranges in emotion, from light and honest to dark and crude. It's a beautiful message about the yin and yang of life.



One of their most famous tunes, "Closer To The Heart", begins with an acoustic guitar, but after the first verse the song intensifies with an electric guitar. Lifeson gets to show off some of his solo work in the track, but it's the combination of all three musicians that makes the song work so well. It's one of their more accessible tunes, and proves that they can indeed reach large audiences.



"Tom Sawyer" is a perfect example of Rush straying from conventional songwriting and still connecting with an audience. It's arguably their most famous tune, and it's instantly recognizable, thanks to those distinctive synthesizers. It's also another great track that highlights the trio playing their instruments with precision and expertise.



Besides Alex Lifeson's guitar playing, the band is also famous for having one of the best bassists and drummers. Neil Peart, specifically, has been recognized by many fans, critics, and musicians as being both innovative and influential. Of course, Peart humbly decided, despite his status as a expert drummer, to go back and study with jazz drummer Freddie Gruber. Gruber helped Peart enhance his playing to a more fluid style, allowing each stroke to dance, instead of cut, through the air.

Prior to his Gruber lessons, however, Peart had established his reputation as a renowned drummer throughout the Rush catalog. Many of the lyrics were also written by Peart, which many newcomers may find surprising. As a band whose main goal is to further explore music and push their talents to the limit, all three members were given the freedom to experiment and develop as musicians. Peart, in particular, became famous for his drum solos, notably for the one found on their track, "YYZ" (pronounced Y-Y-Zed).



The second track on this live album, and a perfect follow up to "Spirit of Radio," is "Red Barchetta." The song, which is about a car, freedom, and a young man's dream about racing in a winding road, begins with a muted guitar riff. The song's musical journey parallels with the lyrics and revs up as the engine roars. The instruments seem to imitate the sounds of an automobile. This, again, is Rush using their instruments to tell a story in a way that only a band so comfortable with their tools can produce.



The entire live album showcase Rush's ability to craft rock music with energy, heart, and brilliance. And though I've highlighted just a few of the tracks, those unfamiliar with "Exit...Stage Left" should invest some time appreciating other tracks like "Xanadu," "Beneath, Between & Behind," "La Villa Strangiato," and "Jacob's Ladder".

Quite frankly, it's difficult to explain in one article all the reasons Rush is worth appreciating. Even just highlighting one album such as "Exit...Stage Left" is an impossible task in itself. In fact, it's doubtful anyone could ever accomplish a definitive collection of Rush, but the 2010 documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage comes close. Directed by die-hard fans Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, their documentary covers Rush's music, as well as the trio's individual lives - from good times to bad, from early days to modern times. They also capture great insight from fans, celebrities, and ultimately the fact that Rush is truly a geek's band. And Rush never think otherwise. They know they're not the hot guys in tight, leather pants. There's a great line at the end of the film, and the end of the trailer below, when someone asks, "What's the motivation to keep doing it?" Alex replies, "Chicks." The joke being, of course, that they've never done it for any other reason than for the music.

For more information about Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, visit: www.rushbeyondthelightedstage.com

For more information about Rush visit their official site: www.rush.com

TRIVIA: The design for the album cover of "Exit...Stage Left" contains elements from their previous releases, including the owl from "Fly By Night," the woman from "Permanent Waves," the gentleman with the bowl hat from "Hemispheres", and many more.


BONUS TRIVIA: Alex Lifeson appears as himself in an episode of Canadian television show "Trailer Park Boys". He also appears in Trailer Park Boys: The Movie as a police officer, and as an undercover prostitute in Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day.

2014/03/23

'It's Still Rock and Roll To Me'

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


On weekends when I was younger, it wasn’t unusual for my parents to decide that we should all hop in the car and go out of town for a mini adventure for the day.  As we headed out on the road, my dad would pop a tape into the tape deck (this was during the time not that long ago when cassettes were more commonplace than CDs), and the next hour or so was filled with oldies tunes, Motown hits, and crooners.  Like the character who rebuffs Sam I Am in Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, for all of the eye rolling, turning up of my nose, and insistence that I did not like that kind of music, once I became an adult, I realized that not only did I like it, it became a foundation of my love of music.

Below are just a few of the artists that have stayed with me over the years, though I could go on and on, like all of the miles we traveled those weekend days.

The Monkees: (L to R) Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith
Hey hey, they’re The Monkees…

Not only did the band The Monkees release over half a dozen albums in the 1960s, but they had a popular television show from 1966 to 1968 too. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out why the TV series appealed to me when I watched reruns of it as a kid; it was silly, madcap, and often just plain, goofy fun. While I’m sure that I learned a lot of The Monkees songs that I know from the musical interludes that they’d have on the show, most of that knowledge probably came from the records that my dad would play.  I’d bet that even today I’d remember the lyrics and could sing along with “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I Wanna Be Free”, and more.  The world lost singer Davy Jones in 2012, but I'm sure that, to loosely quote the TV show theme song, future generations will still be watching The Monkees "sing and play".

Nat "King" Cole
The Chairman of the Board and the King (Cole, that is)

No offense meant to Elvis or any of his fans (I enjoy some of his music too), but if I had to choose one “King” to listen to on repeat, it would be Nat “King” Cole.  And not just his lovely version of “The Christmas Song”--his rich voice crooning away has been a welcome sound since I first heard it.  When my grandpa passed away a few years ago, I "inherited" some of his CDs; among them were Duke Ellington, more Ella Fitzgerald to add to my collection, and a Nat "King" Cole CD with great tracks like "It's Only A Paper Moon", "I'm In the Mood For Love", and "Straighten Up and Fly Right".

Joining Nat in the category of classic crooners, I'd be remiss not to mention Mr. Frances Albert Sinatra. My love of Sinatra’s music is more or less a case of which came first; the chicken or the egg? But here, it would be: was it my grandma’s musical influence, or my dad’s? My grandma was a big fan of Frank Sinatra, and I remember listening to my grandma softly singing along to Sinatra songs in her car as my cousin and I rode along on our way to a special event. But I’m sure that it’s from riding along with my dad that I learned all of the words to so many tunes by Ol’ Blue Eyes.  Whomever’s ultimately responsible, all I can really say is thank you.

Motown Magic

The time spent sitting in the car during those weekend afternoon road trips with my parents could get a little tedious, so when something by Little Richard, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, The Four Tops, or Little Anthony and the Imperials came on and livened things up, it was a welcome break.  Aretha Franklin belting out "Respect" and Tina Turner’s booming vocals on “Proud Mary” are make-you-want-to-dance-in-your-seat favorites too.

There were plenty of more mellow Motown tunes as well, and ballads by The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and others were perfect for sitting back and daydreaming while the miles rolled by.  Sitting back and looking up at the clouds while "Just My Imagination" streamed through the speakers? Perfection.



“I look just like Buddy Holly, oh oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore”

When I was a teenager, the band Weezer had a hit with their song “Buddy Holly”, and I was glad to be one of my generation of fans who knew who Holly was, and who loved some of his music.  “Peggy Sue”, “Not Fade Away”, “True Love Ways” and more used to stream through the speakers during our family weekend day trips.  The story of Holly's death in 1959, along with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, is a sad one and even has ties to my hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, but the joy of the music that they left as a legacy is a true gift to generations that have come after them.  Holly's voice and the beat of "Not Fade Away" still instantly strike a chord with me and make me smile whenever it starts playing.  

Ricky (later known just as Rick) Nelson
Ricky Nelson

Another artist in frequent rotation both at home and in the car was Ricky Nelson, the 50s-era teen idol who gained fame by acting with his real-life family in the TV series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  Nelson's main success on the charts was in the late 1950s, but his musical career extended into the decades after (Nelson died at age 45, in 1985).  It was most of those earlier hits that I came to know: "Lonesome Town", "Poor Little Fool", "Hello, Mary Lou", "Travelin' Man", "Never Be Anyone Else But You", and so on.  The most recent single that I might know from memory would be Nelson's 1972 "Garden Party"--a tune that he wrote in response to being booed off of the stage at a concert in Madison Square Garden in 1971. (It was reported that members of the crowd booed when Nelson stopped playing his old hits to cover the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women", so he left the stage and later the venue without taking a final bow with the rest of the performers.)

Nelson's twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, had success with their band, Nelson, in the early 1990s, appearing on MTV and touring.  Like other teenage girls during those years, I had their album.  I didn't immediately make the connection between them and Ricky until one of my parents wondered aloud if they were his sons.  And like my knowledge of Buddy Holly, I had a catalog of their father's music in my mind to draw on when I found out that they were.

These days, Matthew and Gunnar honor their dad's memory with a tribute show called "Ricky Nelson Remembered".  My parents went to see it just a few months ago, and when they performed some of Ricky's songs, they marveled how the boys "really sound a lot like their dad."

Roy Orbison
The Big O

Maybe it’s how humble he seemed to be even as that awesome voice of his burst forth, or what I perceive to be a kind smile in the pictures and video clips of singer Roy Orbison.  Whatever it is, a lot of Orbison’s appeal (besides, again, that legendary voice) is that he seems like he would’ve been “a regular Joe”, down to earth and easy to talk to, maybe happy to share stories with you about his time on the road touring and the other musicians he‘d worked with over the years.

Many people might know Orbison best for his song “Pretty Woman”, and while I like that one too, there are a list of others that I’d recommend for anybody not familiar with his work.  “Only the Lonely” is a melancholy, beautiful tune, “Mean Woman Blues” is a catchy and playful song, and "I Drove All Night" is touching and well worth a listen.  Honestly, any song in Orbison's catalog is, and I highly encourage it.

On a side note, a few months ago, I had gone to a neighboring city with my parents, and it was late night by the time we were headed home.  I was in the passenger seat of the car, sleepily looking out the window, when I heard Orbison’s “You Got It” come on the radio.  I’d been absent-mindedly singing along when I realized that it wasn’t just my voice and Roy’s breaking the stillness; my dad had quietly joined in too.

And the Beat Goes On

I couldn’t possibly talk about all of the Oldie hits and artists that have stayed with me over the years; there are so many that I haven’t even mentioned yet: “Chantilly Lace” (The Big Bopper). “La Bamba” (Ritchie Valens), “My Boyfriend’s Back” (The Angels), “It’s My Party” (Leslie Gore), The Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, and so on.

For another example of how great music is truly timeless, a while back, I was driving and shuffling through songs on my iPod when I skipped past Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”.  A small voice of protest erupted from the back seat: “Wait! I wanted to hear that!”, my son scolded me as I went back to the track. And so the musical influence begins for a new generation.

2014/03/16

Dead Man

by Dave Gourdoux


No film genre is associated with America and American culture like the western is.  Although on the decline for the past twenty years, there have still been far more western films made than any other genre.   Stars like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Clint Eastwood became famous for the iconic roles they played in films that helped shape an American mythology; a mythology that was created to sublimate the ugly truths of our westward expansion and replace them with mythic tales of heroism and righteousness.  In other words, most westerns were about who we wished we were, rather than who we really are.

The greatest director of westerns (and it could be argued the greatest American director ever) was John Ford.  In nearly all of his films, Ford's poetic sentimentality is on display (two stunning examples of his non-western masterpieces being How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man), but it's never as powerful as in the best of his westerns.  In his westerns, Ford not only celebrated the American myth of the west, he helped create it.   In Stagecoach (1939), his most iconic western, he turned John Wayne and Monument Valley into archetypes of the American culture, larger than life icons of the mythic version of our western expansion.

Ford perpetuated and deepened the myths about the American west - the strong, silent and decent hero, the farmers and ranchers trying to tame a wild land, the dangerous outlaws and gunslingers, the newspapermen and saloon keepers and blacksmiths.   It was an uncomplicated and male dominated world, and women were divided between the sensual "dance hall girls" and pure and untainted schoolmarms.

Even when he tried to tear down the myths he created, Ford's loyalty was such that he struggled and was conflicted.  In his great 1956 film The Searchers, Ford tries to deconstruct the mythic character he and Wayne created by making the character Ethan Edwards filled with racial hatred and an almost psychotic search for vengeance.  The scenes with Wayne and Jeffery Hunter on the trail of Wayne's niece, who has been captured by the Cheyenne, are chilling and cold and uncompromising, and are unlike anything else Ford ever made.  Yet even in this film, in the scenes depicting the family at home, Ford can't get past the stereotypes he helped create, and he embraces the same low level humor and brawling cliches that he and countless imitators over the years filled mediocre westerns with.  It's the contrast between these scenes, the innocent idealism of the family and Wayne's brutal misogyny when out on the range, that makes The Searchers simultaneously fascinating and difficult to sit through.

In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the character of the newspaperman speaks the line that best sums up Ford's approach to the mythology of the American west:  "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

So on the surface, there would appear to be very little in common with Ford's westerns and Jim Jarmusch's 1995 film, Dead Man.  Released a year after Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, a deconstruction of the "man with no name" icon that Eastwood created, Dead Man challenges all of the western myths that Ford and others celebrated.  The myth of the rugged individual, the principled hero, and the good and hearty farmers and tradesmen who were building civilization out of the lawless frontier, are all ripped apart by Jarmusch's film.

But in the process of ripping apart these myths, Jarmusch establishes a stunning work of visual poetry that rivals Ford's best work; specifically, my favorite western of all time, Ford's lyrical My Darling Clementine (1946).


Dead Man is shot in vivid black and white. It opens with Johnny Depp, ridiculously dressed in a flamboyant suit that identifies him immediately as a greenhorn, riding on a steam train to the west. By the time the engine man, played by Crispin Glover, sits down and verbally assaults Depp, it becomes clear that the west portrayed in Dead Man is actually Hell.

The Hell imagery continues when Depp arrives in the town of Machine and makes his way to the factory where he thinks he has a job as an accountant waiting for him.  As he walks the mud filled, potholed street, he has to dodge loose pigs, he sees a stack of caskets, a horse pissing, a woman performing oral sex on a man in a doorway, and countless hard, mean-looking men who look at him with suspicion and mistrust.

Depp finds his way to the factory and is laughed at by the office manager (John Hurt) and his staff, who tell him the job he thinks was waiting for him has already been filled.  Depp then demands a meeting with the owner of the factory, played by Robert Mitchum (in his last film), an eccentric and intimidating character who talks to a mount of an enormous grizzly bear in his office.  Mitchum raises his rifle and forces Depp out, where he is derisively laughed at by the office staff at as he exits.

Depp, alone on the streets of this dark nightmare of a town, ends up in the bed of a woman named Thel (played by Mili Avatel), who makes and collects paper flowers.  They are walked in upon by Thel's ex-lover (Gabriel Byrne).  Byrne attempts to shoot Depp but Thel dives in front of him, with the bullet going through her chest and killing her before lodging in Depp's chest.  Depp shoots and kills Bryne, and escapes out the window, stealing Bryne's horse and riding into the black of the night.

Depp awakes the next morning to a strange Native American (in a great performance by Gary Farmer) trying to remove the bullet from his chest.  He tells Depp that he cannot retrieve it, it is too close to Depp's heart, and that Depp is already a "dead man."  He tells Depp his name is Nobody, and when Depp reveals his name, William Blake, Nobody, who it turns out was educated in England, mistakes him for the poet William Blake.  Nobody is a great admirer of Blake's poetry, and decides to guide Blake on a journey to the Pacific, so he can die in the ocean, where he and his spirit belongs.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Byrne was Mitchum's son.  Mitchum sends a trio of bounty hunters out to bring Blake back, dead or alive, and then offers an ever increasing reward, sending countless men into the wilderness to find Blake.

Gary Farmer as Nobody and Johnny Depp as William Blake
Thus begins one of the strangest and most beautiful journeys in all of cinema.  Blake and Nobody try to make it to the Pacific before Blake dies, while Blake, through his gun, becomes the poet Nobody thinks he is, and encounters many who are after the reward money.   The film is similar in structure to the Carol Reed classic, Odd Man Out, with Depp/Blake hoping to die in peace while a man hunt is going on for him.  The film is about identity, as Nobody mistakes Blake for a poet, and the white men hunting mistake him for a killer, until, with no real discernible identity of his own, Blake becomes both poet and killer.

There is a key scene where Blake loses his eyeglasses, and laments how he is virtually blind without them. Nobody, who in Blake's mind is annoyingly cryptic throughout the film, says, "Perhaps you will see better without them." Nobody's statement turns out to be prophetic, because without his glasses, Blake begins killing those who are after him.  Blake's identity at the beginning of the film is hazy and undefined; in his dandy suit, he is a living joke.  The journey he takes on his way to his death defines him, and he becomes a poet and a killer, a legend, and ultimately, a myth.

Through it all, once they get out of the town, the film is beautiful, as Blake and Nobody make their way through the wilderness.  Also, it becomes evident that while Jarmusch has no use for the standard western mythology, he embraces Native American mysticism and culture.  The final scenes, describing Blake's transcendence, are beautifully shot with great love and respect for the rituals they portray.


I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the soundtrack to Dead Man.  It was composed and performed by Neil Young, and while there is a recurring theme that plays at key points in the film, the bulk of the music is Young improvising on electric guitar as he watched the film.   Although sometimes it's a bit over the top, overall it's perfect, as quirky and eccentric as you'd expect from Young, and as quirky and eccentric as the film.

Depp and Gary Farmer are both fantastic in the film.  Their friendship is played perfectly.  Depp handles the transformations that Blake endures in a low-key, underplayed fashion that is perfect for such an eccentric film with so many bizarre characters. He remains grounded, enabling the other actors to bounce their eccentricities off of him. Farmer's performance as Nobody is perfect, as he utters his cryptic lines with the same confidence, whether they have deeper meaning or are just nonsense.  He gives Nobody, a character who himself has a tragic past, depth and soul.   The rest of the roles are all wacky iconoclasts and are perfectly cast.   Besides Mitchum and Hurt and Glover, there is Lance Henrikson, Michael Wincott, and Eugene Byrd as the first trio of bounty hunters Mitchum sends out after Blake.

Dead Man and My Darling Clementine couldn't be more different in the stories they tell.  While My Darling Clementine is respectful and honors the western myths it tells, Dead Man has utter disdain for the same myths.  For example, there is a disturbingly funny scene in Dead Man with Iggy Pop and Billy Bob Thornton that not only mocks the male dominated western stereotypes but goes against everything Ford stood for as a film maker and story teller.  It's in their approach to the material, which can only be described as personal and poetic, that Jarmusch and Ford find common ground.

Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp in "My Darling Clementine"
My Darling Clementine is a straightforward retelling of one of the western's longest standing and central myths: the story of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the OK Corral.  Again, Ford doesn't hesitate to embrace the mythic qualities of the story.  Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp is clearly the good guy, and Walter Brennan's Ike Clanton the bad guy. What makes My Darling Clementine such a remarkable film are the added touches. There is the conflicted character of Doc Holliday, a refined, eastern educated man who is dying of tuberculosis, and living a Walter White type of life as a gunfighter. And there is the stunning visual poetry and pace that ultimately makes My Darling Clementine so unique.  Ford composes his shots so that the sky is enormous - clouds play as big a role in the film as any of the actors.  As the Earp clan approaches the OK Corral in the film's climactic scene, the actors are positioned at the bottom of the screen, with the immense cloud-filled sky occupying the top two thirds of the frame.  It's as if Ford is saying, the Gods will be watching this moment, while the characters are small and inconsequential against the immense landscape.   This scene, and the scene where Wyatt Earp visits his brother's grave, are shot with the same reverence and beauty that Jarmusch shoots the final scenes of Dead Man

More about the character of Doc Holliday: in the finest performance of Victor Mature's career, Holliday is the rare conflicted character in a Ford film.  He becomes friends with Fonda/Earp, but it is an uneasy friendship, filled with tension.  Holliday has taken up with the worldly dance hall girl played with fiery sensuality by Linda Darnell; his ex-fiance from back east, a pure and beautiful school teacher played by Cathy Downs, shows up looking for the man she fell in love with back in civilization.  Holliday, consumed with anger and bitterness over his impending death, wants nothing to do with either one, and continues on his self destructive path.  But he remains an intelligent, educated man, and he can't let go of his past.  When a drunk actor in a touring theater group forgets his lines in Hamlet's soliloquy, Holliday finishes them, starting with the line:

                but that the dread of something after death
                the undiscovered country
                from whose bourn no traveller returns

This shows the conflict at the heart of Holliday, the appreciation for art and civilization versus the misogyny of his reputation as a gunfighter.  It's the knowledge of his own impending death that drives Holliday, this highly educated and refined and decent man, to the destructive and dangerous man he's become.  In many ways, Holliday is already dead.   

Compare that to the William Blake poetry that Nobody recites in Dead Man:

               Every night and every morn
               some to misery are born
               every morn and every night
               some are born to sweet delight
               some are born to sweet delight
               some are born to endless night

Both Blake and Holliday are already "dead men", and both of their fates are described in poetic terms.   Both men are looking to forge an identity before death claims them.  Their search can be seen as a metaphor for America's search for identity in the west.  In My Darling Clementine, Holliday chooses to fight with the Earps at the OK Corral; he dies a heroic death.   In Dead Man, Blake, after being prepared for death by a tribe of Makah Indians, finds his way out of Hell to the spiritual Heaven that is the Pacific Ocean. The American West is seen as corrupt and evil, and Blake's salvation depends on his ability to escape it.

What differentiates the two films is the vision of the directors.  What Ford finds heroic, Jarmusch finds repulsive. What Ford celebrates, Jarmusch rejects.

What makes both films so great, and what binds them, is the passion and artistry that Ford and Jarmusch use to articulate their visions.  Both films stand as brilliant and beautiful works of art.

For more about Dead Man, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112817/

For more about My Darling Clementine, click here: www.imdb.com/title/tt0038762/




2014/03/02

The Astounding Oud of Anouar Brahem

by John Bloner, Jr.


Certain things come into our lives and we are transformed by them.  "When I was 15, I listened to a record by [jazz pianist] Keith Jarrett," comments Tunisian musician Anouar Brahem. "It was a big shock for me, in a positive way."  Brahem could not know at that young age that he was tuning in to his future.

Less than 20 years later, Brahem would find himself making records for the same German label, ECM, which distributed the music of Jarrett and many other jazz, classical and world music artists. It was a marriage well-met; the tonal qualities found on many ECM recordings tend "to hover like a Scandinavian winter night," writes NY Times' Mike Zwerin, "motionless like a Zen master meditating." Brahem's music is like taking a long, deep breath and reveling in the slow exhalation.

On the day I turned 45, I stumbled upon the sounds pouring from Anouar Brahem's oud--a large, lute-like instrument--and they resonated in my chest. The oud's cavernous, dark tone evokes not only his homeland of Tunisia in northern Africa, but also Spain, France and Turkey, with elements of jazz in the mixture.

In describing Brahem's 2009 record, The Astounding Eyes of Rita, Daniel Garrett says that the music is "often quiet and tender, and the rhythms are Eastern, and compelling for a sound that could support contemplation or dance."


While two of Brahem's records that preceded "The Astounding Eyes of Rita"--2001's "Le Pas Du Chat Noir" and 2006's "Le Voyage de Sahar"--moved languorously like a summertime stroll along a sidewalk in Paris, the 2009 recording, to my ears, translates its sounds into the scent of jasmine, the signature flower of Tunisia, and to the taste of couscous from among his country's culinary delights.

Brahem's music is one of whispers. You need to lean into it. It's typically introspective; even at its most exuberant, a reverent radiance prevails.  At times, it offers the flavor of flamenco or the tension of an Andalusian bullfight.

A 2011 film, "Sounds and Silence," showcases Brahem and several other ECM artists, under the guidance of German record producer and founder of ECM, Manfred Eicher (as seen around the 0:50 mark).


The title of the record, "The Astounding Eyes of Rita", refers to several poems by the late Palestinian author Mahmoud Darwish, each of them featuring a woman named "Rita", an Israeli Jew, who was once his love.

And whoever knows Rita
Kneels and prays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes
And I kissed Rita
When she was young
And how my arm covered the loveliest of braids.


When I listen to Brahem, I fall into a meditative state and journey to a place I've never been, except through the knowing of my soul. I rest on a Mediterranean shore and watch the play of light upon the water.

I listen for music carried over the Mediterranean from Morocco, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey and dream of the protean eyes of Rita, whom Darwish wrote had "eyes like the sea."

The dark resonance of the oud anchors me.

"The album is like a sad rhapsody, full of shadowy mirages and blue echoes" Andy Morgan, Songlines

On "The Astounding Eyes of Rita", Brahem is joined by Klaus Gesing, bass clarinet; Bjorn Meyer, bass; and Khaled Yassine, darbouka and bendir.  The quartet may be heard in the video, "Scent: The Unseen Dimension", in which the lead-off track, "The Lover of Beruit", is mixed with a poem, "In The Presence of Absence", to evoke a sense of smell through the use of images, words and music.

A repeating four-note, kalimba-like sound welcomes the viewer to the video's world; those simple notes also stand in for sounds of rain water falling from a spout on a Parisian street, the clatter of suitcase wheels on cobblestone and the shimmer of lights on the Eiffel Tower.  


It's been nearly a dozen years since the oud of Anouar Brahem found my ears. Since that time, I have listened to many of his recordings over and over again, drawing me to center on days when I've felt fragmented.  I cannot make my way through very many days without lending an ear to his music.

So much of the world's poetry, past and present, seems to be woven into his sounds. "The Lover of Beruit", heard in the video above, evokes e.e. cummings' line, "the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses."  The song below, called "Stopover at Djibouti", recalls the mystic poet Rumi, at least to my senses.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
(translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry and Reynold Nicholson)



Learn more about Anouar Brahem at his website: Click HERE to visit it.