Friday, December 28, 2012

The Girl From Ipanema, in Body and Song

Her voice is as cool and mildly effervescent as a champagne bottle left overnight in the bucket. Nearly subdued to the point of sedation with a tone that dances on the flat side of the notes, Astrud Gilberto appears to have absorbed all the confident insouciance of the Carioca girl of whom she sings. Add to this that ultra cool saxophone––the archetype of sex and titillation going back to the days of burlesque––that in the mouth of Stan Getz gets a full porn work out. Add a pulsing samba rhythm––samba, possibly an Arabic word corrupted in Portuguese, translates as a "blow struck to the belly button area"––and you may've the sexiest song ever recorded on the subject of a stalker's blue balls. (The man who watches the Girl walk by "each day" and smiles and loves her, could warrant a restraining order.)

The song apparently represented more than just someone's wet projection of a Brazilian babe. The composers admit it was inspired by an actual person and her name was Helô Pinheiro (pic at top). Pinheiro would've been a girlish 19 when the song was written. After the song was a big hit it went on to be the Brazilian bossa nova standard (originally released in 1962) and possibly the second most recorded song in pop history. Pinheiro would attempt to capitalize on some of that success. Being the girl led to modeling gigs, public appearances, her own boutique named for the song (Garota de Ipanema), and posing for Playboy twice (in her less girlish years): once as a Playmate (1987 at age 44) and again in a pictorial featuring her with her daughter (in 2003, she would've been a ripe and cougarish 60): As seen here at right––The Brazilian Waxes of Ipanema––even as a grandma she's still tall, tan, and very tappable.

This just in: Want to see what she looks like in a bikini at age 63?

Thanks to the blog Crying All the Way from the Chip Shop for the heads up.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Music that Matters, pt 4

32. Sam Cooke, Bring It on Home to Me: There's a long tradition of wordless yelping in music, that space where no word can express the inexpressible so well as an unadorned jet of hard wind thru the pipes. I love this song for so many reasons but especially this: Before every refrain of "bring it to me" both Cooke and Lou Rawls launch a long, loud "Oh!" For me, this is the highest form of prayer; What sums it up better for our Maker than that?

33. Sparks, Propaganda: From 1974 but ageless. Helium-fueled vocals no one else on earth could sing over intricate melodies that keep the music's skin taut and wrinkle-free after all these years. My sister thought they sounded like a bad dream (she said that a lot about my record collection) and she was probably right. But once we begin our working life the dreams are mostly bad anyway; better to marry with it a melody that could raise you up like a meat hook.

Something for the Girl with Everything on German TV done sometime in the 70s.

And for those who don't know Sparks, this:

34. Piano: I once took piano lessons so I'm a little predisposed to the keys. For my money the piano is the coolest drum ever invented and in the imaginations of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Scott Joplin, Gershwin, Scriabin, Schoenberg, Janacek, etc, it is the voice of God and not Patrick Stewart or Morgan Freeman like some people may think.

35. Blind Faith: As a child I loved this record from the first listen, a deep melancholy resonance riveted together with great hooks. I always thought Stevie Winwood sounded like he was singing through a mouthful of spicy Pad Thai. As inspiredly crappy as his elocution was, for me it only made his voice all the better. Every song on this record is brilliant; Nearly as enchanting to me as was the naked pubescent girl holding the vintage hood ornament on the cover. (The whole friggin' album can be heard here.)

36. Gang of Four, If I Could Be: Electric guitar had been around for, what, 40 years?, and then this guy comes along. A guitar that sounds like a combination of Don King's hair and growling dogs and unlike anyone else. Anxious white Brit funk with perfect proportions of dissonance and polyrhythms that's neither derivative nor inauthentic; How'd they do that? Who knows, but they did.

37. Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live, Them Changes: This Buddy Miles song was decent enough in its earlier incarnations but this version from '72—both in Santana's latinate grooves and punchy rhythm guitar and Buddy's testifying soul shouts that are the vocal equivalent of a Marshall stack—is beyond stellar. Buddy's nearly supernatural screams may only have two or three recorded peers in existence (that I know of). Also, usually a singer's shouts of "say yeah!" are worth little more than eye rolls for the pandering salt licks they are, but here they're utterly brilliant. May've been the career peak for both of them.

38. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country: These guys were monstrous when I was a kid. They were in advance of grunge by 30 years and more authentic than the whole of it by at least 100. Fogerty's solo on Born on the Bayou was the quintessential example of Blues Theft 101, no machine gun runs of blazing notes just the guitar solo as haiku narrative. Another reason this record is branded into my psyche: I was 11 years old at our neighbors' Fourth of July party when one of the girls the host and I had been flirting with all night (in the typical under-cover-of-teasing pre-adolescent style) began dancing with a couple of drunk adults in front of the living room stereo. This record played and suddenly on the hips of this beskirted, giggly girl the world changed forever. (Bootleg here.)

39. Thin White Rope, Sackful of Silver: There are many records you learn to love over time, kind of like in an arranged marriage. For me, Sackful was more like the drunken hook up you still wanted to wake up with 10 years later. Their nary-a-keyboard, dual guitar sound carved through with mid-range tempos and streamlined rhythms may've been the de rigueur of 90s alt rock but their harder and darker version was more gestalt than alt––less Sunny Day Real Estate and more Swans (they did cover Can after all). It's a combination of a-fifth-and-two-packs vocal rasps and the clean-and-sober melodic lead guitar lines that can still, to carry on the metaphor, make the bed springs squeak. (On the Floe here.)

40. The Isley Brothers, Fight the Power: Punk rock as testifying shout from 1975; there wouldn't have been enough coke in the world to even make Rick James this punk funky. These guys love to sing even when they're telling you how pissed off they are. The whole of side one is so dense with hard beats, funky synth curlicues, and let-baby-brother-play-like-Jimi riffs that not even gamma rays could pass through. This record should've influenced a whole generation of guitar hard soul bands but didn't. Maybe the problem was the fluffy ballads stuck on side two. Still, a great one-sided record.

41. Funkadelic, Tales of Kidd Funkadelic: These guys also should've influenced generations of bands, black rock especially, but their anorexic legacy has been criminally small (save the Chili Peppers, Prince, & a few others). Wiki credits them as funk fathers: Maybe, but I think they transcend standard forms. (Should sampling count as an influence?) In the early days they were equal parts funk and psychedelia and didn't really jack their stiz until the five albums of the '73 - '76 period. Funkadelic's deep bench included a busload of great guitar players and singers, some James Brown refugees, madman George Clinton, and the amazing Bernie Worrell who steals the show often (how many times is that said about a synth player?). Salted with absurdist humor and inspired insanities, a batch of great riffs, a canon of songs begging to be covered, and those great Pedro Bell covers––they were a band as a brand and one hell of one at that. (I'm Never Gonna Tell It here.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

RIP Dave

A little late on the tribute wagon: The brilliant Brubeck and Quartet bangin' through one of his iconic tunes while on a magic carpet ride over the picturesque freeways of Los Angeles ca. 1962. Dig that mellow Paul Desmond sax tone: smoother than a hookah.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Abstract Sexy of Björk

I love Björk (pronounced something like B-yerk). She being that rebelliously creative, adorably gifted singer-songwriter from the land of ghosts, elves and various huldufolk. She the ruler of an untouchable realm whose greatest natural resource is that voice. I love how she's at once beautiful and delicate as a flower and yet as rough and impervious as rhino skin. To my eye she's also spectacularly sexy and mysterious in that cold clime, northern hemisphere kind of way. I love that she's a mom. I love her cool website, her technophilia, that her new album is called Biophilia, and her heartbreaking performance in Dancer in the Dark. (I love that she streams her new multimedia remix album. Hear it here and other places.)

I'll admit I haven't listened to her in some years. I love her first two albums but for all the reasons listed above her music can also be difficult––a little too heady when a little more heart would do. Not that we shouldn't envy what that head can do. And that's not to say her songs aren't created with enormous passion––her passion is all over the place. It would have to be to follow a muse so otherworldly and personal as hers. She could've easily pandered a career from star producers wanting to trade up her fame and fortune by churning out mainmstream techno-ditties. Instead, she chose a more challenging path, an aspect that only adds more bonafides as to why she's so bitchin'. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I'm too western hemisphere, too Southern California to at times find her work nearly as cold and remote as her native Iceland. She's kind of like William Burroughs of icy alt-pop: Highly respected by legions, understood by few.

Whatever. I still love her. Here's her latest video. It's sexy but in a very imagistic and abstract way. It's throbs with tumescence and glistens with fiery fluids. Writhing and pulsating thingies float and erupt in loin provoking ways, like a Westside Story dance sequence choreographed for spermatozoa. See if it doesn't stimulate your nethers to oozing as well. But in that northern hemispheric, Eyjafjallajökull-fearing kind of way.

Just discovered this: Here, Björk gets gushingly busy with herself with help from machine enhancements. Whew!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Most Shocking Music Video of 2012"

Well, according to somebody but you decide.

Continuing with our recent infrequent theme of highlighting world music gaining Western notice, we present Die Antwoord. A duo hailing from South Africa, their Afrikaner heritage may explain why they think blackface is larf-worthy. Hip-hop/rave is the what they're labeling it. You might consider their self-conscious attempts at offense to be funny, naive, or just plain mean but more likely they're a combination of all three. I doubt American artists would be allowed the same satiric liberty or politically incorrect latitude these exotic-born stunts are perpetrating here. (Americans are supposed to be held to a higher standard of multi-culti political correctness, or as I like to call it, sensitivity.) In my estimation their "satire" is about 25 ticks harder than anything Ricky Gervais or old schoolers like In Living Color have served up (wait till you see what they pull out of "Lady Gaga's" whisker biscuit) and they've got more anti-celebrity venom than Eminem, Trey Parker and Matt Stone combined (and cubed). (In one scene note the wall behind them is painted with various celebrity slams.) The group, which may also include an anonymous hooded DJ as a third member, are not above unabashed fronting: Die Antwoord is only one part of a long running series of naked commercial enterprises that includes merchandising and other media projects. They'll readily admit their work is aimed at the market which could make them more than a little cynical. And this doesn't even begin to address the many potential circular layers of colonialist offense here which could be as deep as a slave ship hold: White South Africans appropriating and exploiting a diasporic African American art form into a apparently successful business model with acute self-aware ironies. You might accuse them of having all of the street cred of, say, a Vanilla Ice but they're already way ahead of you––mastermind and leader Ninja can be seen wearing a Vanilla Ice t-shirt in YouTube interviews.

Yo-Landi Vi$$er's girly squeak of a voice––she being the ultra slender, ultra-blond, ultra sex kittenish member of the duo––lends a well chosen incongruousness to the profane and expletive loaded spew. (She and Ninja have more than a business union, they have a child together.)

Here, Die Anwoord responds to their critics which may be as interesting as the work itself.

Just for comparison's sake, here's something generally considered to be grittily authentic. One could argue––as bell hooks does so eloquently––it's a little too snug within the white supremacist-capitalist-misogynist patriarchy view of blackness. Because of their brand of apparent authenticity they got a free ride on grief for the flagrant political-incorrectness. Even courting anti-homophobe and anti-misogyny advocates like Sinead O'Connor as fans.

Another approach: Here the jesterism is more open-eyed and the violent nihilism eschewed for a more good natured parody approach. Alas, such maturity didn't garner them the kind of sales enjoyed by NWA. (Gangsta Rap, a genre in which NWA would be pioneers, despite bell hooks, would prove to be a huge seller.)

Thanks to Josh Morris for bringing this to our attention.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Jack White and The Philosophy of Constriction

Interesting to see how Jack White has become The Power of Limitations guru. (Google it: This may yet be his greatest legacy.) If it were his whim he could probably tour the concept into a self-help empire. (Thankfully, it's not.) The greatest product of the experiment that was The White Stripes may've been how it's stripped-down architecture demanded a creative Zen—simple resources ardently applied. In The Whtie Stripes Method, every gesture and expression required fullness to operate at optimum capacity. Aside from the band's quality and execution––which I think we can all agree were some of the best of the ought tens––the experiment itself was a noble one. Aside from Jack's passion, which was decidedly more acute than most of his peers, The White Stripes had used the same formulas and three chord basics as seen at any coffee house open mic or street corner busker the world over. The difference being that Jack's chords produced Seven Nation Army.

The moral: If you can't do it with a thrift shop guitar, buzzing amp, and your dilettante girlfriend on drums, don't bother. Unless you do it because you can't NOT do it, surrender now. If you're not creating because you can't find the time or energy or space, your equipment or resources aren't up to the task of your grand vision, then give up. You're a fraud. But, if your writing/art/music/dance/acting teacher thinks you can't but think you must, you may just be onto something: Maybe not yet, but eventually. But first: Bleeding, sweating, and crying. What'd you expect, it is war after all (to paraphrase Picasso).

The late Charles Bukowski made a similar point if a bit more abstractly:

So You Want to Be a Writer

If it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
Unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
If you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
If you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
If you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
If you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
If it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
If you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
If you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
If it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

If you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

Don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
The libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
Don't do it.
Unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
Unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

When it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

There is no other way.

And there never was.

Maybe not gospel but true enough. Don't do it unless you mean it.