East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

[open letter]

Dear people on the Internet making best-of-decade music lists,

Many people have made good music past the age of 40. (Not just Wayne Coyne.) Examples include Bob Dylan, David Johansen, Lucinda Williams, Brian Wilson, Amy Rigby, and most or all of the Mekons.


P.S. to Uncut: Three Dylan albums in your decade top 100 is a bit much though.

P.P.S. All you guys need to listen to those Coup albums again.

P.P.P.S. And Manu Chao, and Gogol Bordello. And let's not even start on Afropop.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Movie stars of the decade, #25: Meryl Streep

She has a tendency to make every movie she's in into a Meryl Streep movie. This works swimmingly for pictures that are otherwise middling, or a bit worse, with The Devil Wears Prada and the recent Julie & Julia examples of this these that are among her finest work. Even poorly conceived or staged scenes are entertaining, because you can watch her tics and listen to her funny voice of the moment. The downside is that she's often off doing her own thing, rather than placing herself at the service of the director, or carrying her co-stars (Amy Adams must be glad Streep was kept 50 years away in Julie & Julia after being hung out to dry in Doubt), which sometimes makes it feel like she's keeping her vehicles in arrested development. But when working with a great director of actors, like Demme or Altman, she's willing to stand out a little less, and that goes a long way.

Pro wrestling equivalent: Kurt Angle.


Monday, October 12, 2009

50 favourite fiction books of the decade

Not a pure response to this, since my working definition of "of the decade" is more flexible. Though the Brits are overrepresented (too much reading of the Guardian) my list is more internationalist than the Millions list, plus I like some picture books a lot. Comics aside, there's very little genre fiction on the list: I find it hard to work out what's worth reading, as recommendations, whether from inside or outside the relevant subcultures, more often than not end up dead ends for me. Leads consistent with the list below welcome.

1. Orhan Pamuk, Snow
2. Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing
3. Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise
4. Zadie Smith, White Teeth
5. Morrison/Quitely/Grant, All-Star Superman
6. Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
7. Alice Munro, Hateship Friendship Loveship Courtship Marriage
8. Roberto Bolano, 2666
9. Paul Auster, The Book of Illusions
10. Ali Smith, The Accidental
11. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao
12. Aaron McGruder, The Bookdocks: A Right to Be Hostile
13. Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan
14. W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
15. Ian McEwan, Atonement
16. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
17. Per Olov Enquist, The Royal Physician's Visit
18. Mary Gaitskill, Veronica
19. Michel Houellebecq, Platform
20. Sarah Waters, Fingersmith
21. Robert Charles Wilson, Spin
22. Philip Roth, The Human Stain
23. David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
24. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
25. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Wizard of the Crow
26. Caryl Phillips, A Distant Shore
27. Sarah Waters, The Night Watch
28. Monica Ali, Brick Lane
29. Dave Eggers, What Is the What
30. Ian McEwan, Saturday
31. Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness
32. Kate Atkinson, Case Histories
33. Toni Morrison, Love
34. Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days
35. Mikael Niemi, Popular Music from Vittula
36. David Mitchell, number9dream
37. E.L. Doctorow, The March
38. Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners
39. Javier Cercas, Soldiers of Salamis
40. Irina Denezhkina, Give Me (Songs for Lovers)
41. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus
42. Edward P. Jones, The Known World
43. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
44. Carol Shields, Unless
45. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
46. Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man
47. Julian Barnes, Arthur & George
48. Dubravka Ugresic, The Ministry of Pain
49. Arthur Phillips, Prague
50. Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


Monday, October 05, 2009

The decade in Dylan

My big three Dylan albums* will forever be The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home and Blood on the Tracks, but Love and Theft is top of the second tier. It's an album about staying in Mississippi a day too long, then finding there's now no reason to leave. On "Po' Boy" he employs the novel concept of playing the Fool for laughs, not tragedy. He sings like an old man, but a sprightly one, and if you don't believe him when he promises love, he's so alluring when declaring attraction you'll fall for him anyway. A major advantage over previous comebacks was the quality of the playing, especially Charlie Sexton's ominous riff on "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum", and Larry Campbell's slide on "Honest with Me".

Modern Times lacks a truly great punchline, but it's one of his most consistent albums. First and foremost it's a band album, and on "Spirit on the Water" it sounds like he has his best band since the Band, though one far more languid. His theft of “Nettie Moore” sounds as justified and ancient as anything on World Gone Wrong. And "Workingman's Blues" might make you forget he hasn't been using the word "proletariat" all his life. (Neither did Chaplin.)

Together Through Life contains multiples duds, though a lower proportion than, say, any of his Eighties albums. Still, "Life Is Hard" and "I Feel a Change Comin' On" (bit late, what) could yet end up on Un-Dylanlike Artist Covers Dylan, Vol 619. More essential Dylan artifacts from this decade are Masked and Anonymous, which is all other the place but has some terrific parts, like Jeff Bridges as a rock scribe so pompous Lester Bangs would've beaten him up, then asked him for beer money; and the memoir Chronicles: Volume One, in which he's telling the truth, he swears!

*You're free to substitute Highway 61 Revisited for one of these. Not Blonde on Blonde, which gets pretty dull on the second LP.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Decadal music notes

Eminem: If you've forgotten why he was the great white hope, listen to the first two albums again. The Marshall Mathers LP in particular is beyond classic, and was on track to hold back PE's claim to best hip hop album ever until two or three duff tracks in the teens. "Stan" showed he understood that his art had consequences as well as almost anyone; it's just that the consequences of his work were and are far less predictable than those of Renoir's. "The Real Slim Shady" is his cleverest lyric, ninety percent biting lines for the first two verses before claiming not that he is everyman, but everyman is him. "Marshall Mathers" destroys ICP; it's like Vader versus some random Saturday Night guy. I think the controversial "Kim" is as good Stanislavski as you'll get in rock. The next album, The Eminem Show, was a big step down, cameo from his daughter notwithstanding. Encore has its moments, particularly when he was embracing his outer whiteboy and sampling Martika. I put "Mosh" in my 2004 top ten, but on reflection it's clear if the song has anything to other besides "Fuck Bush", admittedly an enduring sentiment (Lily Allen is still making hay out of it). Five years later, only the murder-filled first half of Relapse is godawful; the addiction-fueled second half is merely disappointing.

Amerie: Rich Harrison go-goed up four spectacular bars of Ziggy Modeliste, then he and Amerie wrote an effective song around it that gave her a chance to use her sweet upper register. The result was "1 Thing", a song of the decade contender. The next best thing Amerie has done was "Gotta Work", an accomplished "1 Thing" rip-off.