2016 in Film and Music

I don’t think I’m the only one holding the assertion that 2016 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. However, from the ashes came quite a few amazing works of art that kept a smile on my face and stimulating thoughts in my head. Since I don’t have a functioning computer and writing extendedly is troublesome on my phone/iPad I will go in depth about only a few of these movies and albums.

These are my 10 favorite albums and movies released in 2016:

Movies of 2016:

  1. Moonlight – directed by Barry Jenkins
  2. La La Land – directed by Damien Chazelle
  3. American Honey – directed by Andrea Arnold
  4. Manchester by the Sea – directed by Kenneth Lonergan
  5. Silence – directed by Martin Scorsese
  6. Captain Fantastic – directed by Matt Ross
  7. Star Wars: Rogue One – directed by Gareth Edwards
  8. Denial – directed by Mick Jackson
  9. The Lobster – directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (released internationally in 2015 but 2016 in the US)
  10. Sing Street – directed by John Carney
Honorable mention: Arrival – directed by Denis Villenuve

Music of 2016:

  1. Chance the Rapper – The Coloring Book
  2. David Bowie – Blackstar
  3. The Marcus King Band – The Marcus King Band
  4. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
  5. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
  6. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
  7. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
  8. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  9. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  10. The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood
Honorable mention: Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

Moonlight

Moonlight

 I went to go see Moonlight at the Fine Arts Theatre in Asheville, NC. I had very high expectations for the movie after reading pretty much every New York Times film critic’s ranking of Moonlight as the best movie of the year. Moonlight wasn’t playing anywhere near me in South Carolina so I went to see it one weekend in Asheville by myself. I bought a cherry coke and some milk duds, and proceeded to have my life changed for the next couple of months by this movie. I was moved in so many ways I didn’t even think were possible. Everything about the movie was masterfully executed: the music, the cinematography, the casting, the story, etc. Moonlight is set in Miami and is a cinematic bildungsroman of a lost-in-life black man named Chiron. His story is told in three chapters starting with his childhood ( I. Little), his teenage years (II. Chiron) and his adult life (III. Black). The movie is based on a play and was adapted for the screen by Barry Jenkins – a Miami native.

The story deals with in my opinion three main themes: identity, acceptance, and regret. Chiron is bullied from an early age for being small and not showing the same boyish qualities as his fellow classmates. Chiron receives little to no parental guidance or comfort from his single mother who spends most of her time away from home getting high on crack. Chiron is picked up and cared for by a drug dealer named Juan that looks after him and teaches him that it’s okay to be different. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa serve as the most important roles in Chiron’s life for their guidance in helping him understand his frustrations with not being cared for or accepted by anyone, much less his own mother. The movie seems to me to serve as a teaching tool for accepting your identify for who you are and not letting one person or persons that have mistreated you determine the fate of your life and identify.

The personal reflection of the drug wars and the struggle to identify one’s sexuality has never been portrayed so vividly in film. The most moving aspect of the movie to me was the music. Composed by Nicholas Britell, the musical themes for the different chapters of Chiron’s life have a minimalist yet heavy feeling that moved me deeply. Some of the pieces were created using the “chopped and screwed” technique made popular by underground rap artists in the early 1990’s. Just like Chiron’s personal development and shaping of his identity throughout the film, the musical themes shift literally to different keys with the same chord progression and symbolically to darker, heavier tones. I hear the music to this movie in my head everyday; it’s a perfect backdrop to the themes of repression and isolation in Chiron’s personal development and the stimulating cinematography.

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The Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

Anyone that knows me personally will tell you that I am not a rap guy. I used to dismiss rap music for being uncreative, abrasive, and synthetic. Before coming across this album, the only rap music I appreciated were mainstream hits of the 1990’s and early 2000’s like Jay Z’s The Blueprint (2001) and Outkast. Shortly before the advent of Summer ’16, I lent my CD case to a friend to burn CD’s on to their computer. When the case was returned to me my friend left a burnt copy of the collaborative mixtape Surf (2015) in the case. I listened to it and really liked it. It was only to my great fortune that The Coloring Book was released a few weeks later and I jumped on it as soon as it came out. I listened to it from front to back nonstop – I was enamored by this beautiful music. It’s the opposite of everything I thought I previously disliked about rap music. It’s delicate, creative, and full of a wide array of vibrant sounds. I’ve never been turned off by most hip-hop and I think I like this album/mixtape so much because it has a distinctly soulful, more hip-hop gospel oriented sound.

The soundscapes of the album vary from gospel choirs to more produced rap anthems – or a combination of both with “No Problem”. Chance’s voice on tracks like “Blessings” and “Same Drugs” singlehandedly made me a fan of rap music. The way that he breathes and alternates between a delicate/youthful/nasally sound and a more aggressive/biting tone in his lines is very interesting to me. I know this mixtape doesn’t display your conventional, mainstream rap sound because it’s more of a gospel album than anything but it encouraged me to search out for more rap artists like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Ocean – three artists I have come to immensely enjoy and appreciate. I have listened to this album more than any other released in 2016 and I think I won’t stop listening to it for years to come.

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La La Land

La La Land is a musical, and therefore a very musical movie – something I’m naturally attracted to. I had not seen this movie before it swept the Golden Globes and I will admit I was pulling for Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea to sweep the Golden Globes the way La La Land did. The next day I went to go see La La Land and I was blown away by a number of elements in the movie. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling display their amazing talent as actors, dancers, and singers in a way I’ve never seen from them in other movies except maybe for Emma Stone in Birdman (2014). The music is beautiful and the visual grandeur in many of the fantasy musical sequences is mesmerizing. Usually romantic comedies are hit or miss for me since so many of romantic comedies today are lazily written and have weak stories. La La Land on the other hand is just the opposite. A long time passion project for writer-director Damian Chazelle, La La Land is the second film after Whiplash that Chazelle uses to display is immense admiration for jazz music.

I have a feeling that La La Land will win Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. There hasn’t been a movie like this in quite some time. The movie is innovative for a musical: it’s a love story that doesn’t follow a conventional Hollywood formulaic happy ending and conversely offers a powerful message about the unexpected outcome of the two lovers, and the movie pays tribute to old Hollywood musicals while creating new elements at the same time. The movie has you crying, dancing, and cheering all at once.

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Blackstar by David Bowie

For all the musician deaths in 2016, David Bowie hit me the hardest. This album was released on his 69th birthday just two days before he died and acted as the final piece of the puzzle in Bowie’s long career as a musical performance artist. I can’t say I would appreciate the album as much musically if it didn’t have the implications of his impending death in the lyrical content, but as far as it’s release as a statement made about the end of his life/career, the power is all the same. The album sounds like his previous album The Next Day but with a less rock sound, especially considering Blackstar was recorded entirely with a New York-based jazz combo including Tedeschi Trucks Band bassist Tim Lefebvre.

The communication between musicians and instrumental expertise on this album is spectacular. Bowie was always good at recruiting the best musicians for his albums and the quality of musicianship on Blackstar is no different. The album has an experimental jazz, art rock sound which can be attributed to Bowie’s deliberate move away from a mainstream rock sound and his fondness for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), which he listened to all throughout the recording process of Blackstar. Songs like “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” are so haunting to me. The music and lyrics of these two songs have a heavy, macabre tone that refuse to leave my head for hours after listening.  The album serves as Bowie’s swan song, a perfect summation of his amazing career and life, and is in my mind one of the greatest albums of his career.

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American Honey

American Honey is a nearly 3 hour road film. There isn’t much of a clearly defined plot line and the movie seems to flow as if the interactions and conversations between the characters are happening in real time outside the confines of a movie script. The idea for the movie came to writer-director Andrea Arnold after she read an investigative piece in the NYT by Ian Urbina about magazine crews. It’s worth mentioning that Ian Urbina’s stories in the NYT have gone on to inspire the scripts of a number of movies including Promised Land (2012) and Machine Gun Preacher (2011). The basis of this movie in my mind is the ultra-realisitc view of the white-trash American dream. The characters in the film are runaway teenagers that abandoned their broken homes to join a traveling caravan of likeminded teenagers and go on the road in a van getting drunk and high everyday while selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. To these teenagers, getting intoxicated and experiencing life one American city to the next selling magazine subscriptions is the sucking the marrow out of life.

What moved me most about this movie was the acting and verisimilitude of the characters. Most of the actors are amateur, inexperienced actors and their performances are all the more realistic for not having formal training – it’s more believable that they are these reject teenagers they’re portraying because it seems as if in most cases they really are who they’re pretending to be. Andrea Arnold did street scouting to cast her movie. Sasha Lane, who plays Star, was discovered suntanning on the beach while on her college spring break and other actors were found at places like state fairs, parking lots, and construction sites. The bond between the characters deeply moved me. They’re a collection of all types of people you find in your average American public high school: some are gay, some are quiet, some are outspoken, some have lots of tattoos, and one has an obsessive infuatuation with Star Wars.

Striking imagery exists in a number of scenes in American Honey. For one, Star’s obsession with insects and setting them free is a parallel to the appearance and predicament of the magazine crew in which they are looked down upon by society for being dirty and tattooed, and they just want their freedom away from the confinements of normal society. Another is the de-aestheticization of the American landscape. Most movies that show some part of an invention of the American dream will tend to aestheticize the setting in particular scenes with lurid imagery and picturesque cinematography. In American Honey, the scenes show the dark, Lynchian side of America: abandoned homes in the midland plains, impoverished neighborhoods in South Dakota where young children roam freely around the house listening to death metal music while their mother shoots crack in her bedroom, little children digging through trash dumpsters to find their dinner for the night. There’s no exaggerating or romanticizing rural America in American Honey. 

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The Marcus King Band by The Marcus King Band

This self-titled follow up to the Marcus King Band’s debut album Soul Insight (2015) is a breath of fresh air. It’s very exciting to follow this band and their growth for a few reasons: Marcus King is a dynamite guitar player, the music is a blues revival of the kind recorded by the Allman Brothers Band and “the three Kings” of blues (Albert, B.B., and Freddie), and the band originates from Greenville, SC. I can’t stress enough how amazing and inventive of a guitar player the 20-year-old Marcus King is – it’s my contention that he will go down as one of the best of all time. While Soul Insight introduced Marcus King as a phenomenal guitar player that can write catchy riffs and songs full of power, The Marcus King Band establishes Marcus King as a robust singer and creative songwriter. Marcus truly lives and breaths the blues, something you wouldn’t expect to see from a 20-year-old white kid from South Carolina.

I’ve seen the Marcus King Band perform live 5 or 6 times and each time I see them I form a deeper appreciation for the band. They just keep getting better and better. The band has everything that I like about a blues rock band: cutting horn section, forceful vocals, explosive guitar solos/riffs, and a very tight groove provided by the rhythm section of Jack Ryan on drums and Stephen Campbell on bass. Marcus tours and produces his albums under the tutelage of jam-band scene veteran Warren Haynes. The relationship between Warren and Marcus is like that of a father and son for the music industry. Warren, like many in the blues rock scene, recognizes Marcus’s immense talent and does everything in his power to promote his band’s growth and development – even performing on the track “Virginia” from the album (Derek Trucks also performs on “Self-Hatred”). One anecdote to highlight the relationship between Marcus and Warren: The Marcus King Band performed the Phish/Gov’t Mule after-party show in New York City at the Cutting Room on December 30th, 2016. The show immediately proceeded the end of the Phish show at Madison Square Garden and the Gov’t Mule show at the Beacon Theatre. You would think Warren Haynes would get some rest and go to bed after a late, sold-out show at the Beacon. Quite the contrary. Warren was in the crowd at Marcus’s show at the Cutting Room and stayed until the end of the show around 2:45am.

I anticipated the release of this album for several months and poured through it as soon as it was released on Spotify on October 7th, 2016. My favorite tracks on the album include “Jealous Man”, “Rita Is Gone”, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That”, and “Self-Hatred”. It’s exciting to see this band perform live because I get the feeling that seeing this band early on in their career is like seeing the Allman Brothers Band or the Grateful Dead perform early in their careers because you just know seeing them perform that it’s only a short period of time before they get huge.

Most Underappreciated Live Albums

This is a list of live albums that I deem to be underappreciated and worthy of more consideration. These albums were received well critically and they’re certainly not underrated in terms of the quality of music. However, it pains me that these albums aren’t held in the same light as other great, talked-about live rock albums such as the Allman Brothers “At Fillmore East” (1971) and the Who’s “Live at Leeds” (1970). These albums are significant historical documents in the history of rock and roll. It just so happens that all of the albums I’ve decided to talk about were recorded and released between the years 1969-1973.

17-11-70 (1971)- Elton John

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This album is Elton John’s first live album and was released before many of his most famous hits were even written. The album was recorded live on a radio music show and the title refers to the date it was recorded (November 17th, 1970). The album released by Elton’s record company is a condensed version of the full concert that was widely circulated as a bootleg by fans. Many of the songs on this album are lesser-known Elton John songs seeing as though they were released on his first few albums but they’re great songs nonetheless. The thing that stands out to me most about this album is the incredibly tight sound his band provides. Drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray, both later staples of Elton’s studio and live band, accompany him on the album and provide an amazing showcase for how a rhythm section should accompany a rock musician.

Drummer Nigel Olsson’s drum fills are frequent and loud. Bassist Dee Murray weaves and flows through Elton’s piano fills with a beautifully syncopated rhythm completely in sync with Elton as if the two had been playing together their entire lives (like I said, how a rhythm section should sound). The cover of “Honky Tonk Woman” is special seeing as though the Rolling Stones had just released the single not long before Elton put his spin on the classic song. The vocal harmonies on the song are sensational. Elton John considers this album to be his best documented live performance. Elton’s piano fills were so fast and his level of energy was so high that at one point his fingers started to bleed on the piano keys and he continued to perform. The piano was covered with bloodstains at the conclusion of the performance.

Aretha Live at Fillmore West (1971) – Aretha Franklin

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This album was recorded in 1971 at the short-lived Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. The Fillmore name carries a great deal of weight in the history of rock and roll and is synonymous with legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. Bill Graham established Fillmore West as a haven for the popular rock acts of the west coast such as Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to have a space to play pretty much whenever they wanted to. In 1971, 4 months prior to the closing of the Fillmore West, Bill Graham invited Aretha Franklin to play in San Francisco at his venue. Aretha played three nights at the Fillmore Auditorium and the album documents a selection of songs across those three nights. The selection of songs for her performances was unique because Bill Graham and Jerry Wexler, her producer, encouraged her to play more rock-based songs that would appeal to west coast concertgoers. Basically they wanted her to play songs that “hippies” know – because “hippies” made up the majority of concertgoers at the Fillmore. With a phenomenal backing band, the Kingpins, Aretha blew through a number of classic rock hits (“Love the One You’re With”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Eleanor Rigby”, etc), most of which had been recently released by their respected performers, and a few of her own songs.

The greatest thing about this album is the backing band. The Kingpins were King Curtis’s touring band. They were on tour with King Curtis at the same time and supported Aretha for these shows at the Fillmore. The band included legendary names like Bernard Purdie on drums (quite possibly my favorite drummer), Jerry Jemmott on bass, Billy Preston on organ, King Curtis on saxophone (five months after this recording, King Curtis was stabbed and killed while confronting drug dealers on the steps of his apartment), Cornell Dupree on guitar, three beautiful songbirds of backing vocal support (one of them being named Pat Smith), and the world famous Memphis horns. The Memphis horns are famous for their presence on the majority of Stax Records recordings and the likes of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Al Green. They were at one time one of the most sought after horn sections in the music industry. The last person credited on this album worth mentioning is the great Ray Charles. Ray makes a guest appearance on “Spirit in the Dark” and is from the sounds of his performance clearly under the influence of any number of the many preferred drugs he habitually abused. Aretha Franklin plays electric piano on four of the tracks from the album and offers us a glimpse into her underappreciated expertise on the keyboard. The band on this album provides one of the tightest rhythm sections you’ll ever hear and a vibrant horn section that intensifies Aretha’s already brute force of a soul soundscape.

On Tour With Eric Clapton (1970) – Delaney & Bonnie & Friends

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On Tour With Eric Clapton is a rare live document with an almost unbelievable line up of legendary rock musicians – some at the beginning of their careers and some at their peak. Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were an American husband and wife rock duo that played upbeat, energetic blues music with a traveling caravan of musicians that featured names over the years such as Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane and Gregg Allman, Rita Coolidge, and King Curtis. The album was recorded during a turbulent time for English rockers Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Clapton had just left Cream and the Beatles were coming to an end.

In 1969, Delaney Bramlett produced Eric Clapton’s debut solo album Eric Clapton (1970). Bramlett recruited his band to back Eric on the album and they formed a chemistry that caught the attention of George Harrison. Harrison was trying to get Delaney & Bonnie signed to Apple Records and suggested that Eric Clapton take Delaney & Bonnie on tour with him as an opening act for his newly-formed supergroup Blind Faith. Delaney & Bonnie opened for Blind Faith around Europe and Eric frequently sat in with the band during their performances. Members of Delaney & Bonnie’s backing band ended up becoming regulars in Eric Clapton’s future recordings in the next few years. The band was a multinational group of world class musicians comprised of Jim Gordon on drums, Carl Radle on bass, Bobby Whitlock on organ and piano, Dave Mason of Traffic on guitar, and George Harrison playing guitar on a few of the band’s shows around Europe, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Rita Coolidge on backing vocals, and Jim Price and Bobby Keys on horns. Jim Price and Bobby Keys are most famous for their work with great acts of the early 1970’s such as Joe Cocker and the Rolling Stones.

The great importance of this album lies in its role in giving birth to the supergroup Derek and the Dominos and other significant musical projects. After the tour with Blind Faith and Delaney & Bonnie was over, Eric Clapton spent several weeks writing music with Bobby Whitlock, the piano player on the live album. The music they wrote ended up becoming the bulk of the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Clapton and Whitlock recruited Jim Gordon and Carl Radle to provide the rest of the rhythm section, and Duane Allman was later brought in for overdubs after most of the basic tracks were laid down. George Harrison recruited the same core four group group of musicians, plus several others, to record his seminal debut solo album All Things Must Pass (1970). In 1970, Joe Cocker hired Leon Russell as musical director of his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. From his days with Delaney & Bonnie, Russell knew the same core group of musicians were the best players available and recruited them for the tour and resulting live album Mad Dogs and Englishmen (1970). None of these musicians would have ever worked together in the capacity they did if it wasn’t for their involvement with Delaney & Bonnie and most specifically their tour with Eric Clapton. The album features great songs inspired by American blues and R&B artists. The guitar playing on the album is phenomenal and it’s amazing to listen to the chemistry of the band and hear for yourself why they wanted to continue to work together so much in the future.

Side notes of interest: George Harrison was credited on the album under the pseudonym L’Angelo Misterioso. The album cover features a photograph of Bob Dylan’s feet hanging from the window of a Rolls Royce parked in the desert while on his 1966 World Tour. Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett didn’t like any of the photographs from their own tour and thought the photograph of Bob Dylan would make a better album cover.

In Concert (1973) – Derek and the Dominos

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In Concert was recorded in 1970 at the Fillmore East Auditorium (The eastern extension in New York City of Bill Graham’s Fillmore West) and released in 1973. The album features the performance of the short-lived, ill-fated supergroup Derek and the Dominos. The Dominos toured small clubs in early 1970 before entering the studio in Miami to record their one and only masterpiece of an album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). The group toured from October through December of 1970 to support their album. Duane Allman only made two live appearances with the band during this time. The release of the live album came in the wake of a surge of popularity for the band after the song “Layla” entered into the top ten in 1972, two years after the song was released. The songs featured on the live album are selected from a two-night run at the Fillmore and are long enough to make up a double album. It’s my contention that Derek and the Dominos was a “jam band” before “jam band” was a term to describe a band’s attitude towards live music. In 1970, the Grateful Dead released their two strongest and best-selling albums. Their live performances were certainly improvisational and almost orchestral in the array of sounds the band produced through a blending of musical styles and the element of grandeur in the band’s instrumental communication. What Derek and the Dominos were doing at the Fillmore in 1970 is nothing short of the kind of energy and improvisational creativity the Grateful Dead were already giving concertgoers.

I didn’t appreciate Clapton’s playing to the point that I do now until I heard this album. If you want to hear Eric Clapton “jam” like Trey Anastasio, listen to this album. I didn’t know Jim Gordon was such a powerhouse of a drummer until I heard this album. I consider Layla and Other Love Songs to be my Bible of Blues guitar, and this live album only intensifies what they created in the studio with Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The drum solo on “Let It Rain” is astounding and surely gives John Bonham a run for his money; the “Let It Rain” solo puts “Moby Dick” to bed. It’s interesting to listen to this album because it’s Eric Clapton, England’s most respected guitarist at the time, being supported by a group of 3 Americans – Whitlock from Memphis, Radle from Oklahoma, and Gordon from Los Angeles. Eric Clapton soaked up the American blues music that was born in the areas of the US his band grew up in, plugged it into his heart, and spit it out on stage through the framework of the same emotional fervor he created for the Domino’s only studio album. Much of the content in the songs of the album have to do with his obsessive feelings for Patti Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison. He was heavily abusing heroin at this point in his life and the pain over the unrequited love for Patti he used heroin to mask pours out of his playing on this live album.

The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1969) – Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield

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Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper struck up a friendship and musical partnership after their work on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (1965). Mike Bloomfield played guitar on the whole album and Al Kooper played organ – most notably the organ part in the song “Like A Rolling Stone” that added the signature element of the song. Kooper made a name for himself as a multi-instrumental musical genius that operated as one of Dylan’s most useful tools in the studio for the recording of Blonde on Blonde (1966) and New Morning (1970). Mike Bloomfield made a name for himself on his guitar prowess alone – no one other white American was playing blues guitar like he was. In 1968, Al Kooper booked two days of studio time to simply test out the studio space. He didn’t have any material to record so he phoned Mike Bloomfield to see if he would come in and record a series of “jams” with the intent of creating an album marketed as one of the first recorded and mainstream released “jam sessions.” The album was aptly called Super Session (1968) and featured Mike Bloomfield with Al Kooper on organ, Eddie Hoh on drums, and Harvey Brooks on bass. Harvey Brooks also played on Highway 61 Revisited and was in Bloomfield’s short-lived project Electric Flag.

Mike Bloomfield had a crippling heroin addiction and could only “work” while strung out on heroin. He wouldn’t sleep for the entire duration of a recording project or series of gigs and relied on heroin alone to keep him awake. He worked through the entire first day of recording and laid down some of the most truly amazing blues guitar work ever recorded. On the second day, he failed to show up to the studio. To make use of the studio time Kooper had already paid for, he asked Stephen Stills to come in and record a few cover songs that make up the second side of the album. After the album was released with resounding praise, Kooper and Bloomfield were encouraged to play some live shows to support the album. In 1969, the duo along with John Kahn on bass (of later Jerry Garcia Band fame) and Skip Prokop on drums played a series of live shows at the Fillmore West venue. The shows produced the resulting album “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.”

The introduction to the album has Mike Bloomfield introducing “the thing of this gig” to the crowd and you can tell by his speech that he’s heavily doped up. The setlist for the shows feature many standard rock and blues covers such as “The Weight” and “Green Onions.” Disc one of the album documents the first night with Mike Bloomfield and features the debut of his role as a singer. Tracks like “Mary Ann” and the “59th Street Bridge Song” display some of my favorite guitar work ever recorded. Paul Simon was so impressed with the duo’s cover of the Simon and Garfunkel song that he offered his hand in providing vocal overdubs to harmonize with Al Kooper that can be heard on the album. On the second night of the planned gigs, Bloomfield failed to show up because he was hospitalized for “insomnia” – which is most likely a euphemism for his heroin addiction. In Bloomfield’s absence, Kooper invited Elvin Bishop and Carlos Santana to take over the guitar roles featured on the second disc of the album.  Elvin Bishop worked with Mike Bloomfield in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Santana’s work on the album features his first recorded live performance.

The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper is the reason why I consider Mike Bloomfield to be one of my favorite guitarists. Any student of guitar will benefit greatly from knowing this album front to back. Bloomfield’s playing is unlike any other one of his contemporary white American blues guitarists. Being raised in a wealthy Jewish family in the suburbs of Chicago, it’s interesting that Bloomfield was able to develop such a powerful and distinct sound within the Chicago blues style of music developed by urban, working class black people. His work with the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band put white American musicians on the map for their technical prowess in the blues genre.

Side note of interest: The album cover was painted by American artist Norman Rockwell.

Top 5 Favorite Postgraduate Movies

This is a list of my top 5 favorite movies that address the postgraduate experience and the transitional phase after leaving college. I feel as though this is an important list of movies for the base of people that will be reading it – mainly postgraduate friends of mine or students on the brink of graduating from college.

 

5. Kicking and Screaming (1995) – directed by Noah Baumbach

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This movie is the very first work by writer-director Noah Baumbach. The movie was released four years after he graduated from Vassar College. It wasn’t a critical success or in the box-office hit (in relative, independent movie terms), but it had a few favorable screenings at a number of film festivals. The film’s success on the film festival circuit put Baumbach and the young actors in the movie on the map. I don’t have much to say about this movie because it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. I remember my first impression being that the movie falls short in providing any practical wisdom or insight into the postgraduate situation, however I did watch it as a junior in college and didn’t have much insight into postgraduate life yet. The praiseworthy aspects of the movie are certainly the tasteful, wry dialogue and the performances of the young actors at the beginning of their careers.

The film explores many emotions and themes that define the postgraduate attitude such as commitment, detachment, indecision, and maturity. One can identify with many of the relationships and decisions of the characters in the movie: some travel Europe/live abroad, some stay in their college town, some go to graduate school, some can’t find the means and energy to move on from the comfort of the relationships they formed in college. Side note of perversion: the true significance of this film is the nude scene featuring Perry Reeves, whose later role as Ari Gold’s wife on the HBO series Entourage captivated the attention of XYs during the show’s tenure.

 

4. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) – directed by Joel Schumacher

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Although technically a bad movie by most people’s standards, I’ve always had a peculiar attachment to this film; I mostly attribute this attachment to the mutual fondness my friend, John Watkins, and I have for the film and our reoccurring gag that this happens to be his favorite movie. The movie is significant for its casting – the cast is classic Brat Pack and the movie is a necessary watch for anyone who describes him or herself as a fan of 80’s films. I’m a sucker for ensemble casts and St. Elmo’s Fire has a great one. The movie came out in the same year as The Breakfast Club and features three of the main characters from the “breakfast club”: Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, and Ally Sheedy. The film’s director, Joel Schumacher, is probably one of Hollywood’s best-known directors of shitty movies. However, his movies aren’t bad for his direction or any of the acting performances – they probably just shouldn’t have ever been made. His list of credits includes: Batman and Robin (1997), Phone Booth (2003), and The Number 23 (2007).

I can find bits of my postgraduate attitude in most of the characters from this movie. It’s easy to identify with many of the characters’ predicaments out of college. Judd Nelson’s character really hit home for me. The character, as revealed through conversation, was a strong liberal in college and goes to work for a Republican politician as his first job out of college. His friends mock him and accuse him of abandoning his ideals formed in college through the liberal arts curriculum. The first job I pursued after graduating in December ‘14 was working in the office of an ultra-conservative congressman from South Carolina on Capitol Hill. I didn’t end up getting the job, but I felt like Judd Nelson’s character throughout much of the process in which I was undecided if moving to Washington, DC to work for a conservative politician was what I wanted to do.

3. Into The Wild (2007) – directed by Sean Penn

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I was touched by this movie when I first saw it in 2007 as a freshman in high school. I can identify more with the motives of Christopher McCandless to go out “into the wild” the older I get. The story of Christopher McCandless is an inspiring tale of commitment to one’s ideals – something I respond to with effusive emotion. After graduating from Emory University, McCandless decides to erase his identity, destroy or give away his worldly possessions, and embark upon a self-guided spiritual journey across many of the United States’ magnificent and awesome terrains as a neophyte explorer named Alexander Supertramp. I’m sure most people gradating from college without much direction in life and on their high horse for having just obtained a degree can identify with McCandless’s motives. However, McCandless’s actions are very directed and his academic accolades couldn’t mean less to him seeing as though he denied the opportunity to join membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

Chris McCandless finds dissatisfaction in the world he was brought up in with his parents concerned more with the material aspects of their son’s well-being than the philosophical. His education and literary interest provide the philosophical foundation of his journey; he admires the works of Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy.  His decision to live an acetic lifestyle and live off the land mirrors the actions of Tolstoy and Thoreau. Tolstoy became extremely passionate about his pacifism and distain for materialism to the point where he moved away to the country and started a commune in attempt to form a utopian society based the importance of a morally and physically acetic lifestyle. Thoreau is well known for his days at Walden Pond and the great work he produced there, but how much seclusion and isolation he really had during those days is debatable. I find much admiration in someone that can take their life into their own hands in the way that McCandless did, and carry out a philosophical mission based on the teachings within the notable works of great writers – it’s something in which to aspire.

Sean Penn does a fantastic job with the direction of the film. The non-linear narrative serves as an effective way to tell the story of Chis McCandless’s journey and Emile Hirsch shows us a serious, introspective side to his acting abilities. I also love Eddie Veder’s work on the soundtrack. I’m a huge fan of movies that use one musician’s work composed for the film and used throughout the entirety of the film such as Cat Stevens in Harold and Maude (1970), Leo Kottke in Days of Heaven (1978), Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate (1967). Eddie Veder’s soundtrack keeps the tradition alive in Into The Wild and provides a wonderful backdrop to the many beautiful scenes of the American landscape in the movie.

 

2. Adventureland (2009) – directed by Greg Mottola

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I’ve always loved this movie and it’s been a staple in my life as far as using references from the film since I first saw it in 2009. The driving factors in the movie for me are: its setting in the late 1980’s and references to popular culture at that time, the phenomenal casting, the intellectual humor, and the soundtrack. The movie is set in a suburb of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and ends in New York City when Jesse Eisenberg’s character moves to attend Columbia University. I see these two locations as Greg Mottola’s way of paying tribute to his two alma maters: Carnegie Mellon and Columbia University. James Brennan, the lead role played by Jesse Eisenberg, is a very charming, likable character. Brennan graduates from the very liberal and somewhat prestigious Oberlin College with a double major in Renaissance Studies and Comparative Literature.

After his parent’s inform him that they will not be able to finance his much anticipated summer travel plans to Europe with his college best friend, Brennan is forced to work a summer job at an amusement park in his hometown. James’s friend goes to Europe without him and the two plan to attend graduate school for journalism at Columbia University together in the fall. I always found it humorous that in the late 1980’s one could work an entire summer at an amusement park and save enough money to afford to live and go to school in NYC. To do so today, I would need to have a summer job as a cocaine smuggler AND a hedge fund manager. Kristen Stewart is the film’s only foible. I’ve never been a fan of her acting or the characters she plays in movies (with the exception of Bella Swan, obviously). I find her performance in Adventureland as Emily, or “Em,” to be frustratingly annoying but everything I dislike about her character sort of evaporates in the final scene when she compromises on her flaws and allows the film to have a satisfactory ending by allowing James into her heart.

What I like most about the movie, other than the intellectual humor and dialogue full of literary references, is the tribute to Lou Reed. One of the running gag’s throughout the movie is that a character named Connell, a part-time electrician/musician, once “jammed with Lou Reed.” However, in conversation with Connell, James finds out that the rumor has to be false considering Connell mixes up the title of a famous Lou Reed song “Satellite of Love” as “Shine A Light On Love.” In another scene that I find to be a perfect example of song-scene placement, The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” plays while James and Em drive around and fall in love while surreptitiously glancing at each other back and forth as their car drives into the night. I can’t hear the song “Pale Blue Eyes” without thinking of this scene.

1. The Graduate (1967) – directed by Mike Nichols

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I remember watching this movie for the first time like it was yesterday. My brother Tyler took at film class in high school at Woodberry Forest and shared with me many of the great movies he watched in his film class when he came home for break. The Graduate was my favorite of the movies I watched with Tyler that summer and to this day it remains one of my favorite movies of all time. I had not seen very many movies with Dustin Hoffman or very many movies from the 1960’s before I saw The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman is one of my favorite actors for delivering consistently great performances throughout a very length career. I love so many things about this movie it’s difficult to know where to begin and where to end with what I have to say about it.

The Graduate is a classic piece of American cinema and has many influential and culturally significant lines and scenes. Benjamin Braddock’s assimilation into postgraduate life is different than most of the movies I’ve discussed on this list. His character is tense, serious, and paradoxically sure about as many things as of which he’s unsure. He takes on the postgraduate transition largely by himself with the overwhelming and uncomfortable praise and encouragement from his parents. I love that the song “Mrs. Robinson” was written before its selection in the movie and the song’s title was switched from Mrs. Roosevelt to Mrs. Robinson for the name of the character in the film. I love the way the film shows the luxury and decadence of 1960’s suburban Southern California socialites to the point where a family friend’s wife pursues the freshly graduated track star “Benjamin.” I love how attracted I was to Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson when I first watched the movie as a young teenager. Mrs. Robinson is the original ‘cougar.’ I love that William Daniels plays Mr. Braddock and I found much comfort in his role that I attribute to the years I spent watching him in Boy Meets World (1993-2000) as Mr. Feeny. I love that I can’t jump into the deep end of a pool without hearing “Sounds of Silence” playing in my head as I sink lower into the water. I love the scene where Mrs. Robinson first seduces Benjamin by entering her daughter’s room naked where Benjamin is awkwardly waiting. The camera shots throughout the movie provide the ultimate play of subliminal seduction in the suggestive shots of Mrs. Robinson’s body.

I love how sure he is of his love for Elaine Robinson, the regret he has for his affair with her mother, and the great lengths he goes through to prove his love to Elaine. The ending is so perfect I could easily write an entire separate piece about just the final scenes of the movie. So many emotions are captured through the suggestion in facial expressions of Elaine and Benjamin as they sit beside each other on the back of the bus leaving the church. You get the feeling that they are excited for what’s in store but at the same time they could be contemplating with much remorse for their decision, as it might not have been the right thing to do. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

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-Honorable mention:

Frances Ha (2012) – directed by Noah Baumbach 

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My initial reaction when I first saw this movie in 2012 was that it serves as a refreshing homage to the city of New York and the popular films that pay tribute to NYC. I’m fascinated by movies that capture the cultural identity of a city through either the treatment of cinematography to highlight the city’s landscape/landmarks or through the ideals of a character. Frances Ha is certainly one of those movies for me. Greta Gerwig’s performance as Frances is charming and quirky; qualities that make her character very believable and authentic. I see this film as a sort of cinematic companion piece to the HBO series Girls; but the film is much more satisfactory, because I get the feeling Frances Ha is more earnest and doesn’t try as hard as Girls. I love the film’s use of the song “Every 1’s A Winner” by Hot Chocolate in the scenes of Frances’s trip to Paris.

The film is shot in black-and-white and much of the plot concerns the eponymous character Frances’s struggle to find work as a professional dancer and living arrangements in the city after graduating from Vassar College. It’s my contention that the black-and-white feature was executed as a tribute to Woody Allen’s great films such as Manhattan (1979) and Broadway Danny Rose (1984) that pay tribute to New York City. Much of the cinematography in the film resembles the work of the late, great Gordon Willis, and the intellectual humor present throughout the film makes one think of Woody Allen’s writing style. The film’s director and co-writer, Noah Baumbach attended Vassar College, and thus is able to accurately portray the general characteristics and ideals of a Vassar College grad making their way in the real world. Also adding to the verisimilitude of the character, Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances, graduated from Barnard College and dreamed of becoming a professional dancer while in college.

 

Top 5 Album Intro’s

 

This is a list I’ve compiled of my top 5 favorite side 1 track 1’s. For none vinyl-listeners, these are the five most meaningful songs to me that are placed as the first song on an album. I was inspired to think about this list from a scene in the movie High Fidelity (2000). Here it goes:

 

5.  “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” – Elton John from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973)

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I had never heard this song until I watched a friend’s dad play it on piano. I couldn’t bring myself to telling her that I had never heard the song, so I acted like I was already a big fan of the song while her dad played it for us. I pulled the song up on Youtube as soon as I got home and was blown away. I was already a big Elton John fan and had seen him live several years prior. I was shocked that this song had slipped by me for so long. It’s unlike any other Elton John song I had heard up to that point. Heavy synthesizers and many key/tempo changes; the song reminds me of the Wagnerian rock Meat Loaf popularized years later. I have fond memories of listening to this song again and again while playing Call of Duty: Zombies in my dorm room.

4. “Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye from “Let’s Get It On” (1973)

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I think it’s safe to say that this song speaks for itself. The album “Let’s Get It On” is the ultimate expression of an artist’s concept of love and passion communicated through music. These songs were written as ways for Gaye to confront his emotional demons regarding sexual frustration and the psychological torment negatively impacting his concept of love brought about by years of physical abuse from his father. Taking advantage of the greater creative control his record company allowed him, Gaye recorded “Let’s Get It On” with the full intention of it bringing about the sexual liberation he felt music deserved. Marvin Gaye took the socially conscious framework of “What’s Going On” and altered the theme from a political context to a concept of sexual expression with “Let’s Get It On” – making himself a sex-symbol in the process. The infectious groove in the song is so addicting it can really never get old. I guess that’s why Gaye continued the theme with the reprise “Keep Getting’ It On” further into the album. The song is iconic and to not enjoy the song is inhuman.

3. “Taxman” – The Beatles from “Revolver” (1966)

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Revolver is the Beatles’ magnum opus in my opinion. I frequently rotate my favorite Beatles albums between Abbey Road, The Beatles (White Album) and Revolver. There are songs on The Beatles (White Album) and Abbey Road that I really love but there are also songs that I flat-out don’t enjoy. Revolver stands alone as my favorite (most of the time) because every single song on the album does something for me. I bought Revolver in the 4th grade when our bus stopped at a mall on the way back home during a Church trip. I had a CD player and case of CDs with me that was probably mostly full of Lynyrd Skynyrd and hair metal bands from the 80’s, but that’s a different story. The only Beatles music I had been exposed to at that point was from the iconic red Beatles “1” CD that featured all of their number 1 hits. To listen to Revolver and have “Taxman” as the opening track, and the beginning of my education and exposure to the wealth of the Beatles catalogue was truly life changing. Taxman is classic George Harrison and has a raunchy, Jimi Hendrix Experience feel to it, mainly driven by George’s use of a dominant seventh sharp ninth chord. The musical character of the song is somewhat intricate and not worth my time to explain but there is a subtle dissonant quality within the chord progression in the chorus that makes the song stand out as an innovation in their songwriting abilities that weren’t present prior to Revolver. The lyrics have a humorous ‘stick it to the man’ quality and in my opinion the best guitar solo on any Beatles song. You will be surprised to hear that it was Paul McCartney that recorded the guitar solo for Taxman.

2. “Walk On” – Neil Young from “On the Beach” (1974)

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It was about two years ago when I first heard On the Beach and it quickly became one of my favorite Neil Young albums. It’s sometimes disappointing listening to this song because of the lo-fi quality of the recording but then I realize this is what makes the song great and constantly possessing me to try to make the song louder and brighter on the equalizer. Neil refuses to put his music on any streaming services because of his belief in the MP3 format ruining the integrity of the audio he recorded decades before the advent of the digital music boom. He is one of the most well-known figures in the music industry for reserving complete control of the distribution and quality of his recordings. On the Beach is a masterpiece from start to finish and it appeals to me on a very basic, instinctual level. I’ve never been more attracted to an album and eager to hear the rest of an album because of the opening track until I heard On the Beach. Normally I would think it’s stupid to make three song titles on the album end with the word “blues,” but Neil Young is probably the only musician that could pull it off. The song’s lyrics are cynical and almost despairing. The guitar work has an interesting quality of going back and forth between loose and tight during different sections of the song. If there was one song I would suggest to somehow that had not heard Neil Young before or maybe hadn’t heard some of his deeper tracks, it would be “Walk On” every time.

1. “Like A Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan from “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)

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I really could go on and on about this song for essay length so I’ll try to keep this brief. Like A Rolling Stone has been my favorite song from the moment I first heard it. It’s certainly one of the most revolutionary and inspiring songs in the history of rock and roll music. The song is significant for its musical structure, sound, and lyrical message not only for Bob Dylan’s career but also for popular music in general. It was unheard of to release a song coming in at over 6 minutes as a single in 1965. The record executives said radio stations wouldn’t play a song that long and that it needed to be shortened before it could be successfully marketed. It’s funny to think that Columbia Records was unsure of the success of the song that is now considered by Rolling Stone magazine number 1 on their list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was a major point of pride of mine as a kid to be able to sing every lyric of the song and every time the chorus hit, I felt real power in the words “how does it feel” as I shouted them for everything I thought they meant to me at the time. The song means different things to me the older I get but I will never forget the impact it made on me as a kid when I first heard it. The song takes me exactly to the time and place I was when I was first discovering classic rock music and the excitement I had to put on as much Bob Dylan as I could get my hands on. Bruce Springsteen said it best in his introductory remarks at Bob Dylan’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988: “and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind.”

– Honorable mention: 

“Brown Sugar” – The Rolling Stones from “Sticky Fingers” (1971)

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This has always been one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs ever since I first heard the opening guitar lick. It was in trying to play the Brown Sugar lick that I first discovered Keith Richard’s penchant for open G tunings and leaving off the top E string on his guitar. Brown Sugar sets the tone for the rest of the album full of songs that I consider to be some of the band’s most soulful and hard-hitting. The song has a fulfilling high-energy and perfectly embodies every element of production that makes people love the Muscle Shoals sound.

Professional Appreciator

cropped-record-store-900x600.jpgWelcome to my blog…

“Dirty Diggs Done Dirt Cheap”*

I’ve never taken introductions seriously so I don’t have much to say about myself or this blog other than I’d like to find the purpose of this blog to serve as a means to disseminate acknowledgement and education of particular works of art that I appreciate with much passion, and promote discussion of the works I decide to post about.

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. However, the details of my opinions on music and movies are not. At least I’d like to think so.

I’ve been encouraged by friends and family members to start a blog to share my thoughts on particular films and musical artists. So I’ve decided to give it a run.

Disclaimer: most of what I write about will probably be from the 1950’s-1990’s, with doses of new millennium releases. To appreciate new music, it’s essential in my opinion to have a keen understanding and appreciation of the music preceding today’s releases. Some may think opinions on material released so long ago seem irrelevant, but I personally classify must of “the old stuff” under the category of “the good stuff.”

*The title of my blog is of course a reference to and play on the AC/DC album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976). The origin of this title stems from the frequent use of the phrase “Dirty Diggs Done Dirt Cheap” created by my brother Tyler during my adolescent, but very necessary AC/DC phase, and also the fact that my writing is presented to readers on this free blog template for next to no cost.