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2015/10/11

Crispian Mills & The Jeevas

by Jav Rivera

It was the early noughties and it had been years since my favorite band, Kula Shaker, released a new album. Their 1999 album, "Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts," was the last fans heard from the Brit-pop band. This was also a time when the Internet wasn't as saturated with content, so there wasn't much information pertaining to the whereabouts of the band. I kept waiting, along with thousands of fans, for the slightest bit of news.

Crispian Mills
Then out of the blue, singer/guitarist Crispian Mills (frontman for Kula Shaker) put out a personal website with some demos of what was going to be a solo album. If I remember correctly, there were four tracks on display with limited preview time. Although they were only short samples, chills went up my arm from what I heard. At the time I thought maybe this would just be a side project before Kula Shaker got back into the studio.

Time crept by and no news appeared, and Crispian's website seemed to have be left for dead. As months went by his website was no longer active. Living in the States, it was tough finding information about smaller artists in the UK. All I knew was that I had wished I somehow copied those solo demos to my hard drive.

This is when things get hazy for me. I don't remember how I found out, but suddenly there was a single being released by a band named The Jeevas. Their frontman? Crispian Mills.

I remember hearing a preview of their single, "Virginia," and being excited by its energy. It was definitely Crispian's voice but the sound was very different from the mystical, retro 1960s psychedelic rock of Kula Shaker. They had a more 1970s rock feel. And though I could hear a bit of Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and even Bob Dylan, The Jeevas truly had a sound all their own.



I bought the single (on CD) as soon as I found a website that shipped to the United States. The single included two other tracks: "Stoned Love" and "Old Friends, New Faces." As much as I liked "Virginia," it was "Stoned Love" that convinced me that The Jeevas were onto something great. (On a side note, "Old Friends, New Faces" is a live track of a renamed Kula Shaker song called "Gokula". Additionally, "Gokula" uses a guitar riff from George Harrison's song "Ski-ing". Apparently Harrison was sent the track and gave his blessing.)

L-R: Dan McKinna, Crispian Mills, and Andy Nixon
The band includes Crispian Mills (vocals/guitar), Dan McKinna (bass), and Andy Nixon (drums). It's a powerful debut from three expert musicians. They put out their first album, "1 2 3 4," in 2002. The album has a live feel to it and squeezes the most out of three instruments. Occasionally they add keyboards and various instruments on selected tracks like on my favorite, "Silver Apples." It's a short 10-track album but it feels concentrated with pure goodness. There's a nice variety throughout the album, with several standout tracks.

The album starts with four bleeps and one long beep before the voice of a radio announcer comes on to introduce The Jeevas. The announcer reappears every now and then, but thankfully he never annoys.

Debut album: 1 2 3 4
After the radio-friendly pop song "Virginia," we hear a different side of the band. "Ghost (Cowboys In The Movies)" is a slower, bluesy track with an excellent guitar riff. It's very singable and I can imagine a crowd singing along. Immediately after, we hear a more wild track with "You Got My Number." It's the only song on the album not written by Crispian Mills. The song comes from punk band The Undertones, but The Jeevas do a great job making it into a pop-rock tune.

"What Is It For" is another bluesy track; this one, however, showcases Crispian's lovely voice. It's hard for me not to sing this one out loud like I'm some kind of crooner. The guitar is rich and vibrant, for the most part. There's a moment when it switches on some distortion, and it's in the most appropriate part. And though I've focused much on Crispian's voice and guitar work, this track is an example of McKinna's bass, and Nixon's amazing drums. The Jeevas, in general, boast a trio of quality musicians. As much as I adore Kula Shaker and its members, Crispian did a great job finding another solid band. I remember thinking that if Kula Shaker was to never reunite, then at least we have The Jeevas.

Now that I've introduced the first few tracks of the album, you'd think that you have an idea of the kind of music to expect from the rest of the album. But you'd be surprised. They've currently mixed pop-rock and bluesy tracks, but by the time you get to "Scary Parents" and "Teenage Breakdown" you hear a band that's not afraid to experiment. Now they're getting into more alternative territory. Crispian begins playing around with different guitar effects, and Nixon's drumming have a looser, jazzier feel. I personally hear some influence from drummer Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

My absolute favorite track is "Silver Apples." For me, it stands out as The Jeevas best track on this album, maybe even of their entire catalog. There's so much energy in it that it's hard not to be affected. McKinna's bass and Crispian's main guitar riff have a driving effect, and Nixon's drums are maniacal. This is Nixon at his best. The guitar almost sounds mechanical until it slides into a more organic, grungy distorted bending of notes. And if that wasn't enough, there's a cool keyboard/synthesizer that comes into play on the later half of the track.

The album ends with the sweet, more somber tune, "Edge of the World." It sounds like a more straightforward tune, but one that only The Jeevas could have produced.



"1 2 3 4" has energy, heart, and originality. My expectations for a followup album were high. Thankfully, "Cowboys And Indians" did not disappoint.

Second album: Cowboys And Indians
"Cowboys and Indians" starts off with a very tight rock tune called "Black & Blue." It's a great start to what will be a strange mix of musical styles. It's followed by a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" (written by John Fogerty). It's a loyal rendition to the original song, but a bit more rock and a little less country.

The third track, "Healing Hands," has some Kula Shaker flavor to it with its mystical guitar riff. And this brings me to one of the reasons I love Crispian Mills so much: his guitar work. There's something natural to his playing. It's as if he was born with a guitar in hand. He knows when and how to add a powerful solo. Not every song needs it and he knows it, but when you hear his solos it's obvious he was meant to be in a rock band.

Crispian's also great at choosing songs to cover. With Kula Shaker he covered Deep Purple's "Hush" to much acclaim, and with The Jeevas' second album he chose two very different kinds of songs. One is CCR's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" and later in the album is Bob Dylan's "Masters of War."  And though both songs are connected with themes of war, their presentations are very different. "Masters of War" has to be one of the best covers of a Dylan song. It's dark and pulsating. You can feel the tension of something horrible on its way. And just before the five minute mark, you finally get that violent release.



Other tracks on the album range from silly, like "Que Pasa (Con Tu Culo)?" to political, like "How Much Do You Suck?" There's a loud anthem, like "Good Man Down," and a quiet lullaby, like "Rio Grande". Somewhere in the middle is one of my favorites from "Cowboys And Indians." The track "Girl Without A Name" has a chill vibe to it, but upbeat enough to tap your toes. "Cowboys And Indians" has more variety than its predecessor without losing the quality.



And besides having two incredible albums, I'm amazed by the quality of their b-sides. They could have easily taken those extra tracks and added them to either of the albums. They may be more difficult to find these days, but if you can get a hold of them I recommend the following b-side tracks:

"It Could Only Happen To You"
"Stop"
"Endless Night"
"It's Not What You Do"
"She Speaks"

For anyone who's a Kula Shaker fan, try not to compare the styles because they're both very different bands. The only thing similar is the quality of music and originality of songwriting. Sadly, The Jeevas decided to split, but the good news is that it happened so Crispian Mills could reform Kula Shaker. We may or may not hear more from The Jeevas, but at least they produced two very tight albums.

TRIVIA: The word "Jeevas" originates from the Sanskrit "Jivás" meaning: living substance or living entity. 

BONUS TRIVIA: Five years ago, when we launched 2nd First Look, my first article highlighted the band Kula Shaker.





2015/09/27

Happy 66th, Bruce

by Dave Gourdoux

Last Wednesday was the 66th birthday of a personal favorite of mine, Bruce Springsteen. I could go on and on about why I think he's so great, knowing I'd get a lot of heads nodding in agreement and just as many eyes sarcastically rolling - I understand how split people are about Bruce. It seems like everyone has an opinion, usually strongly held, that he is either a genius or a hack. I am obviously in the first camp.

But enough of that - I  thought what I'd do today instead is select what I feel are some of the most underrated songs in the Bruce catalog.

My only rule was to limit myself to songs that have officially been released under his name - this eliminates the hundreds of hours of bootleg recordings out there.  I've tried to list them in the order they were recorded, but that gets tough when I include things from Tracks and The Promise, which were released much later than the songs on them were recorded.  Also, you might wonder about my criteria for determining what's underrated and what's not; I wonder about that, too.  I guess these are just great songs that for one reason or another aren't held in as high regard by the general populous as I think they should be (note: the key words here are "general populous." In other words, not Bruce fanatics. Every Bruce fanatic in the world holds "Incident on 57th Street" in high regard - it only makes my "underrated" list because it's not as familiar to Joe Q. Public as "Born in the U.S.A." or "Badlands," or "The Rising." It's in this regard that I consider the song "underrated.") Anyway, without further ado, here goes:

I've created a Spotify playlist of my selections if you want to listen along as you read; just copy and paste this URL into a window on your browser:

https://open.spotify.com/user/1257178086/playlist/4cMNXPO6hZP5kCRMHWPVjB

"Incident on 57th Street," from The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle (1973)

Springsteen found his distinctive voice on this, the fifth track on his second album. It's the best example in his early works of his ability to break down the distance between the performance and the listener. As he tells the story of Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, it sounds like he's crawled out of your speakers and is in the room with you. It's an intimacy that's rarely experienced, and it's one of Springsteen's greatest gifts.

Live versions close with an emotional and gorgeous guitar solo that reaches into your chest and rips out your heart.



"Restless Nights," from Tracks, recorded in 1977

An outtake from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, "Restless Nights" is the best portrayal of insomnia ever. The music, dominated by an other-worldly organ riff from Danny Federeci, haunting harmony vocals from Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, and Springsteen's jittery, strung-out electric guitar is so atmospheric as to be hypnotic. The lyrics feature "whispering trees" and "dark rivers" and work perfectly with the music.

                    Now I pray darling for the night
                    we'll dance down these darkened halls
                    once again to fall
                    into a dream




"Loose Ends," from Tracks, recorded in 1977

Another Darkness on the Edge of Town outtake, "Loose Ends" features Springsteen's incredible ear as a songwriter.  His ability to encapsulate all the rules of different genres into his own unique vision is what sets Springsteen apart from other songwriters. This is where the frequent comparisons to Bob Dylan fall flat and are  mistaken - Springsteen was never the poet or innovator that Dylan is. What Springsteen can do so remarkably well as both songwriter and performer is move seamlessly between genres and styles.

It helps to have the great E-Street Band as the instrument through which Springsteen's gifts are expressed. "Loose Ends" may be the band's finest moment, creating a Phil Spector-ish  "wall of sound" featuring one of Clarence Clemons' finest sax solos, drummer Max Weinberg's perfect fills, the amazing blend of Roy Bittan's piano virtuosity, and Danny Federici's instinctive organ playing and Springsteen's voice as he sings:

                     Our love has fallen around us like we said it never could
                     we saw it happen to all the others but to us it never would
                     how can something so bad come from something that was so good,
                     I don't know ...

"Streets of Fire," from Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978

It's easy to criticize "Streets of Fire" for being overwrought and unsubtle, and it's true; in his vocals on this one Bruce does over-emote. But that doesn't change the fact that the song is lean and mean in its description of a guy who's found himself alone in a strange and dangerous place, "strung out on a wire across streets of fire":

                    I live now only with strangers
                    I talk to only strangers
                   I walk with angels that have no place

Springsteen's magnificent guitar solo is one of his best as the song conjures up a world of darkness and menace.


"Talk to Me," from The Promise, recorded in 1978

Bruce plus horns equals magic. "Talk to Me" is another example of Springsteen's mastery of genre, a combination of Tin Pan Alley, wall of sound, frat rock, and blue-eyed soul. It opens with a simple little guitar and drum riff, the guitar is soon joined by piano, and then the horns kick in, and that moment is pure perfection. The hooks in the melody and the tightness of the rhythm section bring to mind the Memphis Stax Records sounds of Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding or Sam and Dave.

"Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway," from The River, 1980

Most of the many critics who dismiss Springsteen are reacting to the broad reach of his anthems, like "Born to Run," "Badlands," and "Born in the U.S.A." Taken out of the context of Springsteen's catalog, they find them to be jingoistic and bombastic exercises in promoting a false mythology. Only when considered within the context of his larger body of work, when the anthems are placed side to side with intimate ballads and poignant stories, does the astonishing range of Springsteen's vision become evident.

"Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway" close out the album The River.  "Drive All Night" is an amazing love song, simultaneously epic and intimate, dark and romantic. Springsteen's vocal is pure and heartfelt and gut wrenching, and Clemons' sax solo is possibly his best (right up there with "Jungleland").                       


"Wreck on the Highway" closes out the album, and takes place in the same dark and rainy night that the singer of "Drive All Night" is trying to drive through. The narrator of the song is telling us about a crash he comes upon while driving on a cold and rainy night. He tries to get help for the "young man lying by the side of the road" even though he knows it's too late for help.

                            An ambulance finally came and took him to Riverside
                            I watched as they drove him away
                            and I thought of a girlfriend or a young wife
                            and a State Trooper knocking in the middle of the night
                            to say "your baby died in a wreck on the highway."

Time goes on, and the narrator is still haunted by the images.  The song concludes with:

                          Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
                          and I watch my baby as she sleeps
                          then I climb back in bed and I hold her tight
                          I just lie there awake in the middle of the night
                          thinking about the wreck on the highway.

Then a couple of drum beats are heard, and the song comes to an abrupt end, only to start again, with just the rainy dark sounds of acoustic guitar and piano fading into the void.


"Used Cars," from Nebraska, 1982

Springsteen has famously written some of his most powerful songs about his relationship with his father, and how his failures and neurosis dominated Springsteen's childhood and shaped how he views the world as an adult. "Used Cars" is a short memoir about his childhood, and the endless parade of cheap used cars his dad would bring home. The song is about the pain and humiliation his father's failures caused:

                        Now the neighbors come from near and far
                        as we pull up in our brand new used car
                        I wish he'd just hit the gas and let out a cry
                        and tell them all they can kiss our asses goodbye



The song ends with some poignant imagery, and a measure of compassion for his father:

                        My dad he sweats the same job from morning to morn
                        me, I walk home on the same dirty streets where I was born
                        up the block I can hear my little sister in the front seat,
                        just a-blowing that horn
                        the sounds echoin' all down Michigan Avenue.


"Valentine's Day," from Tunnel of Love, 1987

This is my all-time favorite love song, even though in the end the narrator's still alone, and it's unclear whether he'll ever reunite with the object of his love.

The song begins with a guy driving alone in a "big, lazy car" at night on a "spooky old highway." He's scared and nervous, with "one hand steady on the wheel and one hand trembling " over his heart, which is "pounding like it's gonna bust right on through." He doesn't know what's driven him out there, other than "tonight I miss my baby, tonight I miss my home."  It's clear that he's been apart from both for some time.

Then he reveals what really has him so frightened:

                        They say if you die in your dreams
                        you really die in your bed
                        but honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled 
                        straight back in head
                        and God's light came shining on through
                        I woke up in the darkness scared and breathing 
                        and born anew

After dreaming of his own death, he wakes with images of death fresh in his consciousness. Terrified, it's only memories of love that can still the nightmarish images of dying alone:

                        It wasn't the cold river bottom I felt rushing over me
                        it wasn't he bitterness of a dream that didn't come true
                        it wasn't the wind in the grey fields I felt rushing through my arms
                        no, no, baby,
                       baby, it was you

The themes of love, death and loneliness continue in the closing verse, where the key word is "lonely."

                       So hold me close 
                       honey, say you're forever mine
                       and tell me you'll be my lonely Valentine

Whether the epiphany experienced by the dream is enough to resolve the differences that split the couple apart is left unresolved. This is testimony to Springsteen's artistic integrity; he prefers to leave the central question the song asks unanswered, rather than tie things up in a nice little bundle.



"Brothers Under the Bridge," from Tracks, recorded 1993(?)

Since the '70s, Springsteen has been a quiet and consistent advocate for Vietnam veterans. Vietnam and its impact on the psyche of the country has been a central theme not only in Springsteen's art but in his life as well, as he lost two close friends, including the drummer in his first band. The disproportionate cost of the war that was paid by the working class has informed the lens through which he views the world.

"Brothers Under the Bridge" is a great example of the cinematic quality of Springsteen's story songs. It is obviously influenced by the work of the novelist Bobby Ann Mason. The song tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who's withdrawn to living with his "brothers" in the "dry brush" of the California hills, and the daughter who's been searching for him.

                     I come home in
                     seventy-two
                     You were just a beautiful light
                     in your mama's dark eyes of blue
                     I stood down on the tarmac
                     I was just a kid
                    me and the brothers under the bridge

                     Come Veteran's Day
                     sat in the stands in my dress blues
                     I held your mother's hand
                     when they passed with the red, white and blue
                     One minute you're right there,
                     then something slips ...

The music fades and the song ends, again, unresolved, the only explanation that"something slips," and it's another example where saying nothing says everything.



"My Beautiful Reward," from Lucky Town, 1992

One of Springsteen's most poetic songs, about a man searching for, and finally finding, peace.  It closes with one of my favorite verses:

                       Tonight I can feel
                       the cold wind at my back
                       I'm flying high over grey fields
                       my feathers long and black
                       Down along the river's silent edge I soar
                      searching for my beautiful reward.



"Highway 29," from The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995

Another of Springsteen's mini movies, this is, simply put, a GREAT song. The scenes we're given and the detailed visuals are amazingly vivid. The story, about a shoe salesman and the  higher class woman who have a fling that goes terribly wrong, is complex and suspenseful.

The bank robbery the guy commits is described in images that are incredibly lean and vivid:

                     It was a small town bank
                     it was a mess
                     well, I had a gun
                     you know the rest
                    Money on the floorboards
                    shirt was covered in blood and she was crying
                    her and me we headed south
                    down Highway 29

They hit the road, the woman now a hostage, when sudden realization hits the narrator:

                     The winter sun
                     shot through the black trees
                     I told myself it was all something in her
                    but as we drove I knew it was something in me
                    Something that'd been coming
                    for a long, long time
                   and something that was here with me now
                   on Highway 29

The song ends with this vivid but enigmatic verse:
  
                    The road was filled with broken glass
                    and gasoline
                    she wasn't saying nothing
                    it was just a dream
                    the wind come silent through the windshield
                    all I could see was snow and sky and pines
                    I closed my eyes and I was running
                    yeah, I was running, then I was flying



"Nothing Man," from The Rising, 2002

The Rising is an album inspired by 9/11 that chronicles the time immediately after, when the trauma was still fresh in our psyche.  Songs like the title track "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing" deal with the loss and vulnerability that was felt. "Nothing Man" is often overlooked, and I can't understand why. To me, it's the best song on the album, and one of the best ten or so songs Springsteen's ever released.

"Nothing Man" is told from the point of view of a first responder who is having difficulty dealing with the trauma and guilt he feels. The song begins in the surrealistic days after with the narrator reading about himself and his "brave young life" in his hometown paper. Then he explains, in deceptively simple terms, how profoundly his world has changed in ways that others can't see:

                    Around here
                    everybody acts the same
                    around here
                    everybody acts like nothing's changed
                    Friday nights
                    the club meets at Al's Barbecue
                    the sky is still
                    the same unbelievable blue

It's that last line, about the "unbelievable" sky, that really resonates. I remember watching the twin towers fall against a perfect blue and cloudless sky, and I remember looking up at the sky here in my Wisconsin home, and it was just as blue and cloudless.  I remember that for the rest of the month of September it seemed as if the sky remained unchanged, blue and perfect and devoid of airplanes.

For the narrator of the song, however, everything has changed, and the blue sky only reminds him of the horror he witnessed. Haunted by the images of what he saw and riddled with survivor's guilt, he's coming undone:
         
                   You can call me Joe
                   buy me a drink and shake my hand
                   You want courage
                   I'll show you courage you can understand
                   the pearl and silver
                   resting on my night table
                   it's just me, Lord,
                   I pray that I'm able
               
                  Darling, with this kiss
                  say you'll understand
                  I am the nothing man

The courage he is praying for is the ability to take the gun on his night table and end his own life. It's heartbreaking, especially when the lyrics are juxtaposed against a lovely melody, and the "doo--doo doo--doos" Springsteen sings in closing the song are pure and haunting.



"All the Way Home," from Devils and Dust, 2005

"All the Way Home" is a simple but effective little rocker that asks the question can romance and innocence survive heartbreak and cynicism? It's about a middle-aged guy trying to pick up a middle-aged woman at a bar, and hoping against all odds to recapture some small scrap of the innocence time has taken from them both.

                 Now you got no reason to trust me
                 my confidence is a little rusty
                 but if you don't feel like being alone
                 baby, I could walk you all the way home

In the last verse, "closing time" is referring to more than the bar closing. The singer is realizing that time is running out, and there might not be many more opportunities. There's a hint of desperation in his words:

                Now it's coming on closing time
                bartender, he's ringing last call
                these days I don't stand on pride
                I ain't afraid to take a fall
                so if you're seeing what you like
                maybe your first choice he's gone
                well, that's all right
                baby, I could walk you all the way home

But in that desperation, in the longing for something long lost, there's dignity and heroism. It's the refusal to let past circumstances and future likelihoods destroy his longing. It's hope when all seems hopeless. This is another of Springsteen's recurring themes - the ability of good and simple people to hold on to their humanity against oppressive and corrosive forces of time and fate.



"Gypsy Biker," from Magic, 2007

Springsteen has been incredibly prolific in the 21st century, releasing no fewer than seven albums. My favorite of these is the 2007 release Magic, which I think compares favorably to his best albums from the seventies and eighties. Songs like "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Long Walk Home" are instant Bruce classics. Right up there with them is "Gypsy Biker," a guitar and harmonica blues rocker about the tragic death of a solider in either Iraq or Afghanistan (he does't specify which) and the cost of war to friends and family back home.

After getting word of the death, the motorcycle club the soldier belonged to has their own private ceremony in which they ritualistically say goodbye:

                We rode into the foothills
                 Bobby brought the gasoline
                 we stood around in a circle
                 as she lit up the ravine
                 The spring hot desert wind
                 rushed down on us all the way back home

The song ends with a description of the effect the death has on those who were close to him:

                To the dead it don't matter much
                about who's wrong or right
                you asked me that question
                I didn't get it right
                You slipped into your darkness
                now all that remains 
                is my love for you, brother
                lying sill and unchanged 
                To them that threw you away
                you ain't nothing but gone
                my gypsy biker's coming home

               Now I'm out counting white lines
               counting white lines and getting stoned
               my gypsy biker's coming home

Springsteen has written several songs detailing the difficulties vets have after returning home ("Born in the U.S.A," and "Shut Out the Light" as examples), but "Gyspy Biker" is the first to focus on the survivors of those who don't make it back.

                  
"Hunter of Invisible Game," from High Hopes, 2014

An amazing little gem of a song that manages to be charming and haunting while at the same time describing a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, Springsteen can't betray his own ultimate faith in the human spirit:

               There's a kingdom of love waiting to be reclaimed
               I am the hunter of invisible game



"The Wall," from High Hopes, 2014

Springsteen's reaction to Robert McNamara's (Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War) apology for his part in perpetuating the disastrous quagmire the war became. To put it bluntly, Bruce didn't appreciate it very much. What he created in reaction is a lovely and heartbreaking short prayer that takes place in Washington D.C., contrasting the halls of power with the names of those lost on the Vietnam War Memorial, "the Wall."

               On the ground dog tags and wreaths of flowers
               and ribbons as red as the blood
               red as the blood you spilled
               in the central highlands mud
               
               Now limousines rush down Pennsylvania Avenue
               rustling the leaves as they fall
               and apology and forgiveness got no place here at all
               here at the wall



Well, you've made it this far; I'd love to hear what you think. What did I miss? What did I get right or wrong?

And here's to Bruce: Happy birthday and best wishes for many more. As he once said, we'll "need a good companion for this part of the ride."





2015/09/06

Christopher Nolan's Memento

by Jav Rivera

Back in 2003 or so, I was teaching a film appreciation course. Each day was devoted to a specific aspect of filmmaking (cinematography, writing, sound, etc.). I'd start the class with a brief summary of the topic of the day and some notes about its various techniques. Always leaving room for questions, the first part was mostly lecture-based. I'd show samples of these techniques to give the students an idea of what to look for in the next part of the class, which was to watch an entire movie.

One of the days focused on editing, which I'm very partial to, since most of my film career has been as an editor; it was also what I concentrated on in film school. Determining which film for each aspect was always tough since there are so many to chose from. For the editing class, however, it was very easy. I chose Christopher Nolan's 2000 film, Memento.

Anyone who's already seen the film will understand immediately why I chose this film. Editing is crucial to the way the story is told. In fact, the timeline is basically played out backwards, possibly to disorientate the audience. You see, the main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), suffers from anterograde amnesia, which prevents him from creating new memories. I imagine Nolan, along with his editor, Dody Dorn, decided to mix up the order of the timeline to make it easier to relate to such an unusual impairment.

Guy Pearce as "Leonard"
It's a great way to tell a story, especially if it's in the realm of mystery. And that's where the editing and story take a huge leap. Leonard isn't just dealing with his memory in a dramatic role, he's also trying to find his wife's killer. He's devised some techniques to help him remember things, mostly based on being systematic with his daily routines. He also tattoos major clues to his body. Lastly, he carries around his trusty Polaroid camera where he can make real-time "memories" of the things most of us take for granted, like the car he drives, hotel he's staying in, and even people he meets. (I admit I use this technique whenever I park in the airport.)

The film can essentially be broken into two main sections which are distinguished by color and black-and-white cinematography. The color photography is played out backwards and is the bulk of the film. The black-and-white photography takes place in a room with Leonard on the phone. Throughout the black-and-white scenes, the audience is listening to Leonard talk to someone about an insurance case he once investigated. As an insurance agent, it was Leonard's job to dismantle cases that were deemed fraudulent. The case in question is of Sammy Jankis. Sammy suffered from the same affliction as Leonard (before Leonard's accident, of course). Leonard goes on to explain the case in detail, and with this story we can study Leonard's current dilemma. But more important is how this part of the film helps break up the color part of the story. And it makes sense that the black-and-white "Sammy" section is told chronologically, because this is a memory before Leonard's condition.

After watching Memento for the first time, I was curious to know how I was able to understand everything despite the broken timeline and the backwards storytelling. I later watched it again, but this time I put on the commentary track on the DVD. The director and editor explained the use of sound cues to tie scenes together.

Editor Dody Dorn
Here's how the film is played out: a scene would start at a certain point then stop just after something exciting or after a revelation. It would be followed by the black-and-white "Sammy" section of the story. The following color scene ends from the beginning of the previous color scene. It's a little hard to explain and people have actually created diagrams. Wikipedia has a great one. Needless to say, it can get tricky to understand the first couple times, which is why so many people have created diagrams.

But more important than a diagram is the trick Nolan and Dorn used for the audience. The beginning of one scene would have a recognizable audio cue. This could be a line of dialogue such as someone shouting out "Lenny" in a very specific tone. The following color scene would end with this audio cue so that it would be easier for the audience to piece together the scenes. It's so simple, yet ingenious. It's no surprise that Dody Dorn was nominated for an Academy Award for this film. Unfortunately, she didn't win. (Personally, I thought she deserved it more than the actual winner, editor Pietro Scalia for the film Black Hawk Down.)

But beyond the impeccable editing, Memento also boasts some talented performances by a surprisingly small cast. In recent years, Nolan has expanded his films with large casts and blockbuster spectacles such as The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar, to name a few. With Memento, however, he compacted his characters to three main actors: Guy Pearce as "Leonard," Joe Pantoliano as "Teddy," and Carrie-Ann Moss as "Natalie". There's also the "Sammy" character played by Stephen Tobolowsky.

Stephen Tobolowsky as "Sammy Jankis"
Tobolowsky has very few lines in the film, but he makes them count. In the little time he gets onscreen, Tobolowsky makes his character sympathetic by showing how his disease can bring out an unpleasant side of someone who's normally mild-mannered. And given the fact that he doesn't have much time to show who he was compared to who he's become, it's a true testament to Tobolowsky as a dramatic actor, especially for someone who's normally found in comedies.
Like the "Sammy" character, the other characters play a large role in Leonard's distrust. No one around him is reliable, and with short-term memory, Leonard is often found on the wrong end of the stick. His relationship with "Natalie," a damaged woman with ambiguous motives, makes for an unusual partnership. Carrie-Anne Moss does an excellent job portraying a sad, but possibly vindictive, character. Her role provides the question of what guilty means. Is guilt based on a point of view, or is there no such thing as innocence?
Director Christopher Nolan and Carrie-Anne Moss as "Natalie"
Then there's "Teddy," played by the underrated Joe Pantoliano. As Leonard's friend, or foe, depending again on a point of view, Teddy is Leonard's sidekick. Leonard thinks his mission in life is to find his wife's killer, and Teddy has been helping Leonard out with the case. But who is fooling who? Is any of Teddy's information reliable? Is Leonard fooling himself thinking he can solve this case? Is Teddy merely enabling Leonard's desperation because he feels sorry for him? When there's no one to trust, how can a mind ever find structure?

Joe Pantoliano as "Teddy"
One of my favorite traits of Christopher Nolan is the psychological aspect of his films. Of course, when you talk about a Nolan screenplay/story, you usually have to give half the credit to his brother Jonathan "Jonah" Nolan. Memento was based on his short story "Memento Mori". It was one of his first collaborations with Christopher, but definitely not the last. He went on to write the screenplays for The Prestige, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. I love films that deal with the mind, and the Nolan brothers know just how to do it right.


I think if I had to choose, I'd pick Memento as their best example of a psychological story. Surrounding a character with untrustworthy people and situations, with the addition of short-term memory, is unique as is. But then to use editing to enhance that feeling of disorientation is beyond excellence. This was my first taste of Christopher Nolan, and I've gone on to become a big supporter of all his films. There are times when I wish he'd go back to small casts and lower-budgeted films, but maybe that's just me. He is, after all, doing quite well at the box office, which means other people are digging what he's doing.

For more information on Memento, visit the film's IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0209144

TRIVIA: Leonard uses a Polaroid 690 camera throughout the film.





2015/08/23

Albert Brooks is Lost in America

by Dave Gourdoux

Dropping out of society
"Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac ..."
                                                                       - Don Henley

To the casual, mainstream film-goer, the name Albert Brooks probably doesn't mean a lot. If they recognize the name at all, odds are they're remembering him as a role player in such films as Broadcast News or Private Benjamin. Odds are they won't identify him as a comic genius, or a skilled writer, director, and star of some of the best comedies of the past forty years. But Brooks is all of these things, and more.

Brooks grew up in Hollywood.  His father was a radio comedian who died when Brooks was quite young, but not before naming his son Albert Einstein. With a name like Albert Einstein, he had to be smart and funny. As a teenager, he became close friends with Rob Reiner and Richard Dreyfuss. Before he changed his name to Brooks, Reiner's father, Carl Reiner, told Johnny Carson that the funniest person in the world was a kid named Albert Einstein.

Brooks started as a young stand-up comic in the late '60s. At the time, most stand-up comedians were of the Shecky Green/Buddy Hackett variety, opening up for Sinatra type singers and telling ex-wife jokes that conformed to a predictable set-up/punch line rhythm. Brooks was one of the first comedians to play against the standard joke/punch line format. His humor was conceptual and self-aware; he used the stereotypical show business archetypes and turned them on their head. He was intelligent, and assumed his audience was intelligent enough to understand the quiet iconoclasm at the root of his humor.


The first time I saw Brooks, I was eleven or twelve years old. It was on "The Flip Wilson Show" (anybody else remember Flip Wilson?) when he came on to do his ventriloquist routine. The only thing was, Brooks played his part as being so unskilled, nervous and inept so well that it was beyond belief. There wasn't a punchline to be found, yet it was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen, even though I had trouble explaining why it was so funny. He took all of the conventions of the ventriloquist routines, and, knowing that his audience was as familiar with them as he was, he found an angle to exploit: what if the ventriloquist not only had no skill, but was incredibly nervous? It was exactly the type of conceptual routine that Andy Kaufman would make famous several years later.

It was about this time that Brooks became a frequent guest on the Johnny Carson show. One night I was watching when he came out, sat in a chair, seemingly depressed, and openly confessed that he was out of material. He then proceeded to do the things he could do that just weren't him, including dropping his pants, smashing a pie in his face, spraying himself with seltzer water, all the while proclaiming "This isn't me."  You could feel the audience going exactly where he wanted it to go. A couple of years later, Steve Martin would achieve super stardom with his "wild and crazy"guy routine, with an arrow in his head and balloons and not a punch line to be found.



A direct line can be traced from Brooks to Kaufman and Martin. They had in common conceptual humor and intelligence (even when doing stupid things - they trusted the audience enough to recognize and laugh at the stupidity) and a desire to break through the wall between performer and audience.

Brooks went to Hollywood, making six short films in 1975 for the first year of Saturday Night Live. He had a supporting part in Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, Taxi Driver, and in 1979, wrote, directed, and starred in his first feature film, Real Life.



Real Life again shows Brooks ahead of his time. The premise, to follow around a typical American family with a camera, foresaw the recent reality television craze. The film, like most of Brooks' projects, was self aware, with Brooks playing the part of the director, a guy named Albert Brooks, who just so happens to share all of the comic sensibilities and traits of the real Albert Brooks (or at least of the comic persona he'd developed), including his neurosis, his con-man desperation, and his need to manipulate and control. And, of course, just like his ventriloquist act, things go horribly and hysterically bad, culminating in a last ditch attempt to to inject some drama and save the movie, with Brooks setting fire to the family's home.

His second film, 1981's Modern Romance, is a more conventionally told tale of a neurotic Hollywood film editor (Brooks) trying to navigate the obstacle course of love. Again, Brooks can't resist gentle inside nudges at show business, as we get to see him at work, editing a comically low budget sci-fi film. But most of the humor is gentler and more subtle than in Real Life. Like Real Life, Modern Romance was moderately successful; both films drawing a small but devoted audience, both films efficiently made and revealing a rare intelligence. Brooks' apprenticeship as a comedian and filmmaker was over. He was, artistically ready for the big time, even if his work was too subtle and layered for mass consumption.

His next film, 1985's Lost in America, was the breakthrough, the work where he realized his potential. Released smack dab in the middle of the Reagan decade, it captures the essence, the conflicted soul of the country that emerged from the rubble of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate, inflation and recession. It's about the transformation of baby boomers from Hippie to Yuppie. If anyone wants to understand what the '80s was like, Lost in America is a pretty damned good place to start.

The film opens with Brooks playing David Howard, an upwardly mobile executive in a Los Angeles advertising firm who doesn't get the promotion he thought he was promised and is instead asked to relocate to the firm's New York office. Enraged, Brooks loses it, and gets himself fired.

Brooks then decides to shuck it all in. He convinces his wife (Julie Hagerty), a manager at a department store, to quit her job, and the two of them will drop out of society and take to the road just like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper do in Howard's favorite film, Easy Rider. On the road, they aim to find America. The fact that the Howards, unlike Fonda and Hopper, take to the road in an enormous Winnebago RV, and that they have a "nest egg" of over one hundred thousand dollars to fall back on, doesn't seem to register with Brooks. It's the '80s, and the '60s still cast a long and romantic shadow on the upwardly mobile and ambitious beings that the hippies had become.

Things take a disastrous turn for the worse when, on their first night "on the road," they stop in a Las Vegas casino. (Spolier alert  --> ) Let's just say that while Brooks is sleeping in their hotel room, Hagerty (in a very funny scene that reveals what a gifted comedienne she is) has a bit of a losing streak at the roulette table, emptying the nest egg.



Without the nest egg to fall back on, Brooks is suddenly terrified. In one of the funniest scenes, using the nervous con man/salesman persona we were already familiar with from previous films and acts, he meets with the owner of the casino (played by Garry Marshall) and attempts to talk him into giving the nest egg back.

Without the nest egg, they get as far as Hoover Dam before they discover the real America isn't the romantic vision of Kerouac or Easy Rider; rather, it's a place populated by trailer parks and menial service-level jobs. They've found America, and can't wait to get out of it and return to their roles in Yuppieland.

Lost in America works as a biting satire of the shallowness of the time, and as social commentary on how the baby boomer activists of the '60s became the materialistic capitalists of the '80s. It's Brooks' growth as an artist in that he is able to recognize the same traits in his comic persona were shared by his generation, and instead of turning inward and mining these traits for laughs, he looked his audience, his generation, in the face and saw the same insecurities and contradictions. There are plenty of laughs in Lost in America, but with Brooks' usual soft and gentle touch, there is room also for sad recognition of the truths he's uncovered.

Brooks has continued to make funny and intelligent films (like his follow up to Lost In America, 1991's brilliant and hilarious Defending Your Life), never achieving the super stardom that always seemed within his reach but that he doesn't seem interested in, and that is just fine. Those of us who are familiar with his work recognize the world as a funnier and more nuanced place for it.






2015/08/16

"Everybody Loves Bluegrass; Many Just Don't Realize It Yet"

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee last summer, and when I started to work on this article, that experience kept coming back to me. Not only because of the connection between that region of the US and bluegrass music, but because of the feeling I had when I'd step out on the cabin's balcony, surrounded by treetops and looking right at the misty Smokies as the morning haze started to dissipate or dusk softened the landscape. Like those almost surreal moments in the mountains, there’s something about the music below that just reverberates within. I may know next to nothing about bluegrass as a genre, but I know when something (pardon the pun) strikes a chord. And like the quote that I used for the title, I had no idea how much I liked bluegrass until I discovered the artists that I'm about to talk about. Give them a listen; you never know what realizations are waiting around the bend.

Sara Watkins

I can’t remember how I found the video for Sara Watkins’ song “You and Me,” but it wasn’t one that took a few listens to grow on me. I became enamored with it immediately, and spent the next few days hitting the “replay” option. There was a quiet earnestness in her voice, the lyrics did one of the things that I like best in a song—set me down in the middle of a little story—and then there was the lovely, low sound of the fiddle, which Watkins was playing. Thank goodness for the handy suggestions of other songs in the sidebar, because I started seeking out more of her songs—and still liked what I was hearing.


As a founding member of Nickel Creek, Watkins got her start in music when she was just a little girl. Initially made up of Watkins, her brother Sean, and mandolin player Chris Thile, Nickel Creek is a bluegrass group that released six albums (and won a Grammy) before taking a hiatus in 2007. (Last year they announced that they’ll be releasing a new album and touring again.) During this hiatus, Watkins pursued solo projects, including the release of two solo albums, and working on a third that she hopes to release in the early part of 2016.

She’s worked with a bevy of well-known music-world names, including Jackson Browne and John Paul Jones (former bassist for Led Zeppelin), as she’s embarked on her solo career, and Watkins has done anything but pigeonhole herself or keep from being adventurous in her music-making. On her album Sun Midnight Sun, she collaborated with Fiona Apple on a re-imagined version of the Everly Brothers’ “You’re the One I Love.” Another song, “The Foothills” has a Celtic feel. Then there’s the stand-alone song she wrote with Switchfoot frontman Jon Forman called “Miss My Kisses”; the fiddle gives it a bluegrass flavor, but it has a catchy pop sound to it too. I could imagine it playing on Top 40 radio.

Lucky for me, being so new to Watkins’ music, there’s a vast catalog of work for me to go back to. Besides Sun Midnight Sun and the upcoming album she plans to release, there’s also her 2009 self-titled album to discover, not to mention all of the music she made as part of Nickel Creek. The BBC said that “Watkins’ time in the spotlight is a triumph, with her agile playing and the kind of voice that gives your goose bumps the shivers.” After all that I’ve heard so far, I agree, and encourage you to check out www.sarawatkins.com so that you can experience those shivery goose bumps yourself.

Della Mae

Watching a video of the women in Della Mae performing at a bluegrass festival, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how fast the bows flied while they fiddled and their fingers flew on the frets of their guitars and mandolin; it was truly impressive. With all of the members of the group playing instruments like that's more or less what they'd been born to do and contributing vocals on so many tracks, the result is a multi-layered, abounding sound that hits you with emotion; sometimes joyful, sometimes wistful, or maybe even a little bit of both.   

Originally from Boston but now based in Nashville, the group formed in 2009.  All of the women in the band play an instrument: Celia Woodsmith plays guitar, Kimber Ludiker plays the fiddle (and is the fifth generation in her family to do so), Jenni Lyn Gardner plays the mandolin, Courtney Hartman plays both the guitar and banjo, and Zoe Guigueno plays double bass. Although they usually all contribute background vocals and sometimes take turns stepping in front of the mic for certain songs, it’s often Celia who’s lead vocalist.


Their 2013 album, This World Oft Can Be, was Grammy-nominated, and they just released a new, self-titled album in May. (Their first studio album is I Built This Heart.) In addition to touring nationally, I was intrigued to find out that the group has also participated in the U.S. State Department’s “American Music Abroad” program. Traveling to places like Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia (they wound up visiting fifteen countries last year), they played for locals, participated in music education programs for children, and collaborated with local musicians. Talking about the experience, Woodsmith said, “It’s really opened our eyes as people and as musicians, and hopefully it’s had the same effect on the people we’ve met on those trips. It’s strengthened our camaraderie, and it’s helped us become a better band…we came home feeling totally inspired, and wanting to create those kinds of connections with people in our own country as well.”

And I don’t see how someone could listen to Della Mae and not make some kind of connection; alternating between songs that make you want to jump up and dance, slower songs that strike a chord in your heart, and even occasional covers with a little Della Mae twist. Even though I’m pretty brand new to their music, I definitely plan to play catch up as I seek out more of their work. To find out more about the dynamic Della Mae, visit www.dellamae.com.

Alison Krauss

Until recently, Alison Krauss was on my periphery; I knew the name, but not much of her music. Then one day while I was listening to an online radio station that plays music based on your preferences, a song that I didn’t know popped up. It sounded like an old gospel song, sang by a delicate, almost ethereal voice, with subtle background vocals that allowed the lead vocalist to really shine through. It turns out that it was the version of “Down in the River to Pray” that Krauss had recorded for the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?


Krauss has had an impressive career, spanning at least twenty-five years, and she doesn’t show any signs of slowing her momentum. A fiddle player with that gorgeous voice that I mentioned above, she’s most often singing with her band, Union Station, comprised of Dan Tyminski (guitar and mandolin), Jerry Douglas (Dobro and lap steel), Ron Block (banjo and guitar), and Barry Bales (bass). With all of these instruments and the vocals that the band lends, the tapestry of sounds weaves together to create a rich background for Krauss' voice. That's not to say that "the boys" are always in the wings though; Krauss is more than happy to share the stage and let each of them, who are successful musicians in their own right, step up and into the spotlight too.

When Krauss isn’t with Union Station, she can also be found collaborating with other artists. She’s done duets with Brad Paisley (“Whiskey Lullaby”), James Taylor (“How’s the World Treating You”, “The Boxer”), Robert Plant, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, and many more. In 2013, Krauss even joined other musicians on stage to share the vocals with Vince Gill and Taylor Swift on Swift’s song “Red” during the Country Music Awards.

Krauss is quoted as saying, “The only thing you can do is record things that move you—that have a connection with you—and to represent yourself truthfully. Things have to be true that I sing or I can’t do it. Whether I write them or not, they have to be true for me to say it, and for the guys (Union Station) to play it. The only recipe is if it feels true, and true may be incredibly sad. But that’s the part that feels good, because it’s truthful. It might not be true for anybody else, but it is for us.” That sums up beautifully the instant connection I made that day when a plaintive voice came through the speakers, singing a Gospel song from well over a hundred years ago. There’s a genuineness in Krauss’ work that speaks to universal truths in anyone’s life. As with Sara Watkins and Della Mae, it’s fun to be standing on the threshold of discovering more of her music. If you’d like to join in, a good starting place is www.alisonkrauss.com.

So, readers, we'd love to know: has there been a genre of music that you stumbled upon that was new to you, but you quickly became a fan of? If so, please share in the comments.





2015/08/02

Top 5 Reasons to Love High Fidelity

by Jav Rivera
Cusack and team channel The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night"
for the cover of the album and poster.

Growing up in the '80s, I became very familiar with John Cusack's face. Whether seeing him in a tiny role in 16 Candles or as a leading man in the oddball comedy Better Off Dead, Cusack became like a close friend. He was a buddy I could rely on to give great performances and be that relatable "every man." Well, not quite "every man," since most of his characters were outcasts. But they were characters that I understood, and for me they were more normal than the jocks or preppy boys who dominated the movies in the 1980s. Cusack rarely played the popular student, and instead found a niche playing unusual, maybe even socially unacceptable, characters. And even though his characters were usually outsiders, his was the point of view that felt proper. And it became easy to get on board with his characters' ideas.

Before his 2000 film High Fidelity came out, I had last seen him in the critically acclaimed, and financially successful, film Grosse Point Blank, which is another one of Cusack's best. So when High Fidelity arrived in theatres, I was excited to support my buddy.

It also helped that High Fidelity was set in a record store and relied heavily on discussions about music. As a music lover and a Cusack fan, this was going to be an easy film to love. And after watching it for the first time, it was clear that this would be a hidden gem for years to come, perhaps even a classic.

Below are my top five reasons to love High Fidelity.

John Cusack (Rob Gordon) and Jack Black (Barry)
#5 - The Shirts of Barry

Let's start of with a goofy reason. Barry, played by Jack Black, can be found wearing some of the ugliest shirts. Sometimes it's an Aloha (Hawaiian) shirt, sometimes it's a horrific color, and sometimes it's a band shirt that he's clearly wearing ironically (i.e. Yanni). Whatever he's wearing, it's a fun element to the film.

#4 - The Music

This one's kind of a no-brainer. The soundtrack to the film has been acclaimed many times over, and with good reason. It's a great mixture of indie rock artists (Sheila Nicholls, The Beta Band, and Stereolab) and legendary musicians, including Stevie Wonder, The Velvet Underground, and Bob Dylan. Though most of the soundtrack is composed of pop music, there's a nice variety in musical styles.

Iben Hjejle (Laura) and Cusack
#3 - The Cast

This is easily one of John Cusack's best performances. Cusack plays Rob, a record shop owner. His character may be charming, but he's also layered with many unflattering traits. Cusack walks a fine line between being a nearly-faithful boyfriend and loser. He's not exactly a good person but there's an honest effort to do the best he can based on his previous relationships.

Cusack's supporting cast couldn't be more fitting. Rob's two employees, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), have just as much passion for music as him, which can be unfortunate for Rob at times since they don't know when to shut up. Rob's girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle) is successful and confident. She's the opposite of Rob, which often creates power struggles between the couple. Hjejle plays Laura with underlying strength. She's not an over-the-top feminist but she's not the weak girlfriend either. For a character like Rob who loves to be the leader, Laura keeps him grounded. Laura's best friend Liz (Joan Cusack), on the other hand, is a bit more fierce. Instead of using reason like Laura, Liz instead prefers anger, be it shouting or passive aggressive behavior.

Even though the film mostly follows Cusack, there are great performances from other smaller roles. At one point in the film Rob lists his top five worst breakups. He later revisits these women, allowing great moments for some great actresses to shine, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, and Joelle Carter. Even smaller roles like Tim Robbins' "Ian" character and Lisa Bonet's "Marie De Salle" character are delivered with such great performances that their parts feel bigger than they are. All in all, it's a terrific cast with a nice variety in characters. Oh...and Bruce Springsteen even shows up, briefly, as himself. It's a cool cameo and quite fitting to the story and Cusack's character.

Rob takes grief from Liz (played by Cusack's real-life sister, Joan).
#2 - The Story

High Fidelity disguises itself as a romantic comedy, but at its core it's a story about music and its effect on life. There's even a moment in the film where Cusack's characters asks the audience:

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

In relation to the story, that could be the most meaningful statement in the film. Since a very early age, music has been an important factor in my life. And still, I'm not sure I can answer the question either. I know that when I'm down I prefer depressing music, and when I'm happy I choose more upbeat music. But does the sad music make me sadder? Many years ago a coworker told me I should listen to happy music when I'm down, but it never felt right. Could it be that music and feelings are supposed to compliment each other? Whatever the answers are to those questions, Cusack's statement is genius. And if you keep music as a key element to the story while watching High Fidelity, you may find a much deeper meaning to the film.

Another element to the story are the Top 5 lists. Throughout the film, Rob and the gang create situations where a Top 5 list helps illustrate a moment. For example: a Top 5 list of songs to play at a funeral. At first it comes across as a simple conversation between music lovers, but the symbolism these lists create make the scenes even better.

L-R: Alex Désert, John Cusack, Todd Louiso, and Jack Black
#1 - The Authenticity

The characters and their lives are all about music. Whether they're wannabe musicians or wannabe music critics, Rob, Barry, and Dick all share a bit of arrogance. They have no doubt that they're authorities in the field of music, and look down at anyone who isn't as informed as they are. Having worked in film and music industries, I can say first-hand that this is most certainly a realistic depiction of many movie and music buffs.

Unfortunately, I'm also familiar with several of the failed relationships that Rob has had. Those, too, come across as very real. His insecurities, his suspicions, and even his misguided reactions to break-ups all seem legitimate. This was one of the first films where I could relate so closely to the main character's depiction of dating. And I'm sure most of this authenticity is thanks to the film's source material, Nick Hornby's book of the same title. (Hornby also authored "About A Boy" which was later adapted into a film starring Hugh Grant.)

With a film like High Fidelity, it's easy to find reasons to love it. And whether or not you're a music buff, the story speaks to anyone who's dated. Presented in a very original way, Cusack and company produced a fun film with strong performances.

For more information visit the film's IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0146882

TRIVIA: Nick Hornby's book is set in London, but the producers changed it to Chicago because the area was more familiar to them. John Cusack, an Illinois native, also found it easy to relocate his character in the Chicago area. Additionally, it has been stated that Chicago's alternative music scene can be compared to that of north London's.