Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pack Rats vs. Rat Packs

[from www.automatoncity.com]

I suppose I’m the pack rat of the rat pack.

And I’m learned to be slightly better this month.

I’m moving out of my place within the week, and I have been going through everything in my room. Really, much of the month of May has been spent by going through boxes of things while watching movies on my computer in the background

Just in the last week, I’ve watched Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Sweet And Lowdown, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Psycho, From Here To Eternity, Eddie Murphy: Raw, Bonnie And Clyde, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Tootsie, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Third Man. I have also watched the entire third and fourth seasons of Seinfeld.

The reason I’ve been able to watch so many movies and episodes of television shows is because I have so many things to go through. Copiously stashed in every drawer, every shelf and every hidden spot are papers. Anything from eighth grade poetry to college math assignments have been around here somewhere. I’ve saved a lot, but I’ve thrown out even more this month, springing for summer.

When I moved into this place two years ago, I didn’t go through much. Instead, I just moved boxes. And maybe living in my own place has given me a new perspective on space. I’ve been throwing away entire boxes stuffed with papers it’s safe to assume that I don’t need. I threw away every college assignment except for essays. I trashed notes, but kept letters. Once seemingly important paper items, like old parking tickets, old bank letters and old notices from college, all gone.

I have always kept clearly important things, like old photographs and old mixtapes. But I usually come up with a purpose or a significance for seemingly unnecessary objects.

For example, I have the number six from a keyboard. It looks like nothing special. But it’s from when three friends and I were shooting a computer with a crossbow during a road trip while we were staying with relatives at their beautiful house on the lake in Washington. When the arrow lodged itself into the keyboard, the number six flipped through the air into one of our hands. I put it in my pocket as a token of road trip weaponry and laughter.

That’s the sort of things that are in my room. I keep souvenirs of fun times with friends.

I have a sign that says “Someone please love this girl” with an arrow pointing down, which I brought to high school basketball games because this girl Nancy always made the players treats and felt underappreciated. I have a deflated balloon of the letter “J” from my college graduation party. I have fake rose petals from when my friends and I built a restaurant for my girlfriend in the backyard. I have my winning ticket from the first time my father took me to the horse races. I have bubbles from a friend’s wedding. I have the pamphlet on “Loud Parties” that the cops gave us the first time they came to this house. And I also most of my movie and concert tickets over the years stashed in two envelopes.

However, my bedroom never looked like that of a pack rat. My bedroom usually just looked messy most of the time, and if I cleaned it up, you couldn’t tell that I was saving as much as I actually was. Most of what I have are souvenirs from spending time with family or friends. I’m a sentamentalist. Though I suppose that I do look like a pack rat in some instances, because I have stacks of newspaper. But they aren’t random meaningless newspapers, which is a sure-fire trait of actual pack rats. The newspapers I have all contain articles that I’ve written over the years, and I should just get to cutting them out sometime.

So I’m not exactly a pack rat, with my bedroom stuffed to the ceiling with broken appliances and bags of receipts. I’m a pack rat of the rat pack, compulsively saving small items of memories. It almost feels like I’ve collected trinkets from folk tales and mythical lore.

I keep what makes me happy. I go through things, catch myself reading a letter that someone wrote me when I was 16 and thought the world was too big, and later find a goodbye letter in college from someone who thought the world was just a little too small.

My father has a saying: “Throw away everything you haven’t touched for six months.”

But my mother also has a saying: “Don’t listen to your father.”

See, my father’s mother hardly saved anything. My mother’s mother saved a lot. This is where the perspective comes in. And I seem to be a mixture of the both. There are things that I can’t believe one grandmother threw away and there are things that I can’t believe one grandmother saved.

However, it seems that it could really just depend on my mood. I can’t really be sure if it’s that I’ve evolved because I’ve been in an entirely different atmosphere. Or maybe you just need to go through these things every once in a while in different moods. I suppose it’s like editing a paper over and over again, as you’re basically doing the same activity but noticing new things each time.

Let’s say you write a paper and then edit it once, do something else and come back to it. Then you edit it again, do something else and come back to it, and edit it again. And then you do something else and come back to it, and edit it again.

And then you save that paper for years, trying your best to justify having it tucked away in your closet.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Owe You An Apology, Music

[from www.automatoncity.com]

I was at Target with my girlfriend last week.

And, as I can't help but wander off at Target, no matter who I'm with, I ended up strolling extremely slow through the movie and music section. An album I already had on my ipod (also known as "It's A Wonderful Liepod") was on sale. The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound was going for $10.

I absently grabbed it and carried it back with me to my girlfriend.

"Are you going to get it?" she asked, as we walked the main loop asile towards the cash registers.

However, for some reason, the question blind-sided me, which seemed incredibly strange and silly. I mean, I went through the trouble of staring at the album, deciding to pick it up, carrying it around with me, only for my girlfriend to ask if I was actually going through with the purchase before I really considered buying it.

"No...I don't think I am..." I said quietly, as I looked suspiciously at the compact disc in my hand.

"Why not?" my girlfriend asked.

"I have no idea..." I said gently, like I had just woken up from a nap, as I randomly shoved The Gaslight Anthem behind some country album with barley and a cowboy hat on the cover.

Suddenly, I thought my brain was broken. How mindless am I? I feel like I do things sometimes without thinking, of course...but this was such a moment of frail humanity. How do I not know if I'm picking up something to buy?

Dating me must be like a constant out-of-body experience.

I may just be that stupid.

Or perhaps it was because I hadn't purchased a CD in years.

I don't even remember what the last album was that I actually spent money on. I want to say that it was The Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. And before that, it may have been years too. I'm moving out of my place in two weeks, so I've been copiously cleaning out my room. And I had to pet away all of the dust on my Neon Bible like it was the actual Neverending Story, just stashed away to protect humanity from...I don't know, everything, really. There's nothing good in The Neverending Story. Everything would just scare the fuck out of me in real life. Yeah right, like deep-down you really want Falkor hanging out of your window making that loud sound he makes anytime he goes too fast.

Anyway, a week passed.

Then, last Friday, I left for Mexico. But the night before, my friend Grant called me to see if I'd ride with him south. As I have always found Grant to be a worthy modern traveler (more literary than worldly), I absolutely signed up to speed towards Mexico the next day.

"Good," Grant said. "Also, I want to smoke a bunch of cigarettes and listen to some really good rock 'n roll on the way down. You in?"

"Absolutely," I told him, thinking of all the artists that would fit our arteries and veins of sound (Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, Lucero and so on). Should I make a playlist? I wondered.

No. I should just buy that fucking CD, I finally decided.

So, going according to plan, the following morning, I drove to Target, pushed the country album with barley and a cowboy hat out of the way and snagged The Gaslight Anthem, which was now going for $8. And even then, I had a sudden and mild reservation about buying the album. But I was quickly back on.

"Yeah right, I'm buying you, motherfucker," I either thought or said. I don't know. I'm not really sure sometimes.

As I left the store, I began feverishly unwrapping the album. I read the lyrics and looked at the pictures and I realized how sorely I missed such a small event. There was a time when I would spend all of my money on music. When I was in ninth grade, all I wanted was piles and piles of CDs. Then they made blank CDs. And then they made piracy software. And then they made burning programs. And then they made iPods. And then they made iTunes. And then nobody bought music anymore.

And for years I argued that I wasn't one of those people, the kind that makes up excuses for why they don't buy music in stores. I would give reasons like, "It's not like I'm actively not buying CDs. It's just that there's no CDs I really want. All of the music I get is from friends who just hand me what they like and I check it out. I'm not avoiding store music."

But here it was, The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound, on my ipod and not on my shelf. And I had to admit that I would absolutely buy the album if I didn't already have it on my computer.

Worse than anything, I realized that I hadn't contributed to music thriving in years. I long ago lost a good interest in attending shows and I stopped buying band shirts, so where the hell have I been in the music scene? Just a fuckin' freerider?

Yep. Because I'm quite positive that I haven't been sending these songwriters individual checks either. What an asshole I've been. These men and women had been writing songs and entertaining me for years without me ever contributing. I just sit there and take in their music, like a king amused by jesters.

I often play music casually on my computer. How dirty, how loathsome, how brutally honest and unfair. I upload whatever music is handed to me and listen to it while I do other things. How special is it really? I usually just listen to it see if my friend is right. I run checklists through my ego to see if my friend gave me good music. Effortless and emotionless is how I've listened to music these last ungodly years, I realized.

I suddenly felt like I owed music an apology. Yes, for a long time, I didn't buy music because I thought the price of albums was too high. Maybe it was a protest. I don't know. But it turned into convenience and then into laziness (as so many protests often do), and I knew I had failed myself as a music lover.

It reminded me of when I first started listening to vinyl in college.

I would drive all the way to Huntington Beach so I could buy these old jazz and lounge records from a vinyl shop. Then I'd come home and find the right groove for the needle, and I'd just lay there on my floor listening to these records for hours. It was like attending church and coming home and humming the hymns to yourself. I went there for it and I came home with something glorious, I thought as a musical heathen.

It was only a few extra movements to listen to vinyl on my record player than it was to listen to a CD in my stereo, and for some shallow beating of my heart, I felt like I had earned the music. I went through the trouble of listening to those albums that I couldn't hear anywhere else. The magic of those records was that I couldn't listen to it in my car or at a party. I could only listen to those songs in my bedroom. The static would bump as the needle started rolling and bumping along like a car in a cartoon. And I'd fall asleep there sometimes, listening to those records.

The magic of music has borders that I don't quite understand. Maybe it isn't always about the sound. Maybe it isn't always about the words. Maybe it isn't always about the guitar, the bass, the drums, the horns, the piano, et cetera. Maybe sometimes it's just what you make of it.

Sometimes, maybe the beauty of music is just the effort to get it and hear it, you know?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Wish I Was A Sexy Dancer

I think if I was a sexy dancer, that's all I would do. And I'd probably put videos online that people would enjoy. They'd watch them and think, "Damn, that is some sexy dancing. I respect that." I'd go to weddings and impress the bride. She'd stare at me and wish that her new husband could do what I do. Girls would want me with clothes, without clothes, in some underwear hybrid. And I'd shake my butt and drop my legs, and swing my groin and kick my shoes off to the beat. The videos online would be a new sensation, striking a popularity and bringing about credit to posting videos of a person dancing by themselves in their room. Damn, I'd probably be in my underwear the whole time. I'd have to be for maximum movement and enjoyment. Dancing naked is awkward, but slinking around the room in some skimpy would dazzle the masses. I don't know what song I'd dance to because I would dance along to too many songs. I'd be the hit of YouTube, Google Videos, everything. Everyone would watch me.

But if you watch sexy videos of girls dancing in just their underwear, then you're a pervert somehow.

I don't fucking get you society.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The New Season of 24

[from www.automatoncity.com]

I titled this blog “The New Season of 24″ for two reasons: 1) it’s an accurate summary of what I wrote, and 2) I was hoping that I could maybe steal some of Jack Bauer’s leftover advertising on television.

And now [in deep narrating voice], the new season of…24.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I made an off-hand remark about dying at 24.

I said it to a girl online, back when the internet was all that I had after midnight on the weekends, and she was curious about why I had sold myself short on life. Literally. And I didn’t think much of it at the time [I say a shit-ton of nothing, much of which I forget right after saying it, especially as a teenager], but she brought it up to me in later conversations.

Initially, it was just a statement that hung off-center on the back wall of my mind, but I began saying it more and more as the years went on. And it evolved into different ways of acknowledging areas of my life that needed change. For example, when I was a teenager, it was a car crash because I drove fast. In recent years, it’s been diabetes, because I eat junk food almost daily and rarely exercise.

But it all goes back to my sophomore year, when I said something I didn’t mean and it turned into what could one day become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I mean, I get some credit for trying to follow through with something, right?

In the remaining days of my sophomore year, in history class, girls were asking me where I thought I’d be at 30. I suppose they were expecting a well-planned answer, like their life goal list [married by 26, a thriving career by 28, a kid or two by 30].

I shrugged and said, “Well, I’ll probably be dead at 24, so I’m not really sure.”

This was greeted by empty stares and a cold cough.

They didn’t buy it and I didn’t smile afterwards. So the faint cracks of uncomfortable roaming eyes challenged the lingering sound of nothing. Even a pinpointed age of death was a bit macabre for my humor then, which was usually a lot of swearing, sex jokes, shocking phrases and perspectives. Also, these girls were still sending me prayer e-mails, so they clearly didn’t see the gap of interests between us.

The girl I originally told my prophecy to asked me how I knew I’d die at 24.

I told her that I didn’t. It was just a gut feeling, like a small crush.

She told me that’s not what a crush was.

Well, it’s crushing, I said.

She laughed. And then told me to never talk about it with her again.

So I didn’t.

Or I didn’t at least until we were 21 and drinking wine in a hotel room.

“Why do you think you’ll die at 24?” she said, sipping the red wine and wipping the thin layer of lipstick off of the glass.

“Why do you think you’ll live to see old age?” I said, drinking my wine much faster than her.

“That’s different. You seem so sure,” she said, almost purring the question.

“So do you.”

“What do you know that I don’t?” she said, stretching her arm across the bed and crossing her legs.

“I know when the end is coming.”

She paused, and said, “No, you don’t.” And then closed her eyes and took a large, thoughtful sip of her wine. She opened her eyes and stared at me. With a sly grin and suspicious eyes, she mumbled, “Or do you?”

I smiled, and we moved onto something else.

Over the years, I’ve brought up the prophecy as random off-hand, under-the-breath remarks, never to further conversations, but often to just keep reminding myself that I only have so long.

Well, I turned 24 on Sunday.

And I’m not dead.

But I think this would be a fine year to pass on to the great unknown. I’ve often considered suicide on lazy summer days, when I’m usually in a bathing suit and sunglasses, born out of an intolerable heat and a generally intense curiosity of what lays beyond.

When I’ve considered suicide, it’s usually with a generally apathy curiosity.

What if I committed suicide right before 25, just to keep the legend true? I don’t mean that to be depressing or off-putting. Say I threw a party. Why not throw myself a funeral party? Again, it would be lively, and I’d be in a good mood, and all of my family and friends would try to talk me out of it, put me on watch, cry without conviction, et cetera. But in the end, I would just say, “I’m really too interested in knowing if there’s anything else after this, and I’d like to be in the prime of my youth when I go.”

Why couldn’t I be right? Nobody has any argument against it. I have no reason to really believe that I’ll die at 24. But does anyone have a solid string of challenge points against it? No one knows the future. So really, I’m just about as right as anybody. It was just a notion that stuck with me. But damn, what if 25 really is the massive beginning to a spectacular end?

I remember my friend Ryan telling me that 25 was the year he saw as perfect. We were sitting on the patio of a large house in the hills and he spoke of traveling the world on a grand ticket. He’s a geography major and avid traveler, so I trust him to actually do it. We were only 22 at the time, so 25 seemed far off enough to have faith in the quarter-century turn of magnificent events.

“At 25, you have the resources of time, money and connections. You’re cultured enough to take in the world and educated enough to understand it. You’re in prime physical condition and your sex drive is going strong, And it’s just a few years off from settling down,” he told me in paraphrases.

I sipped my beer and settled into my large coat across the table, considering this.

“It could truly be the end of the world,” I thought. And in the bleep of an instance, I borrowed a cigarette and thought, “But then again, I might be dead by then,” and sparked the lighter for a long inhale.

It was cold that night on the drive home, as I had the driver’s window down, considering what Ryan had to offer at 25.

But 24 was the promise, wasn’t it?

Well, everything’s the promise if you’re the one speaking.

Because I had always told myself 24 was a big deal, I considered all the wild things I could do to celebrate for my w4th birthday. But in the end, on Saturday, the night before I turned 24 and began my mysterious parade of a promised fatal year, I just wanted to enjoy a casual night out with my girlfriend.

Since I figured making it to 25 would be the ultimate celebration, I decided to just go quietly into 24.

My girlfriend took me to dinner, where we had some appetizers and shared a gourmet pizza. I had a whiskey and we people-watched. We caught an action film and left the theater shortly after midnight. It was finally my 24th birthday.

On our way to the parking lot, she asked me what it felt like to be 24. I shrugged, providing the usual response anyone has shortly into their birthday. Nothing changes, nothing seems different. And this may have been a letdown for me. I don’t know what I expected.

Sure, in true self-fulfilling prophecy fashion, I would’ve liked a grim reaper of some sort appearing in flames, laughing and pointing at me, saying, “You will be dead within the year.”

And then my year of grand living for a grander death would begin.

But with no demon characters to skulk the land, march up my street and drink my spoiled milk, I’m not sure there’s going to be much chain-rattling.

I might just live to be 25.

Maybe I will live long enough to have the resources of time, money and connections, and be cultured enough to take in the world and educated enough to understand it, possibly being in prime physical condition with my sex drive going strong, only a few years off from settling down.

Or I’ll be dead within the year.

Ah, to be alive as a (possibly) marked man…

Monday, May 4, 2009

More Like...Moulin Ruse

From www.automatoncity.com

Sure, an argument about Moulin Rouge seems eight years too late, but I finally just saw the whole thing and have been arguing about it continuously for a solid week.

It all started last week, when my brother’s friend Jamison brought over Moulin Rouge. And then Jamison and I got into a lengthy discussion about the movie. And then that sparked a week of debate for me.

Moulin Rouge.

Oh, how those two words have been a plague of feelings (for vs. against) for a solid week. Everyone seems to have an opinion of Moulin Rouge, so why not have this discussion almost a decade later?

Moulin Rouge is Jamison’s favorite movie and I had never seen the entire thing, as of last week. I had only seen the first half hour, but I told him that I liked a lot of what I saw, but the inclusion of modern rock hits ruined a lot of the potential I thought the colorful musical had within its grasps.

This was when our opinions surely split.

Jamison couldn’t believe it, which was fair. Every girl in high school that loved the movie adored the soundtrack for its modern interpretation of an old school interpretation of modern songs. But once you attack the main reason that everyone loves a film, it becomes an attack on the film.

Take a letter.

Dear Girls From High School,

I’m sorry I never watched Moulin Rouge when you initially tried to get me to, over and over again. I know you told me that I’d like it. And I did. Sure, it’s years later, but I just thought we should clear all of this up.

But I’m still not watching Grease, you bitches.


Back to me and the bottled up Jamison (close to a good pun, yeah?).

“Do you believe in truth?” Jamison said, rattling off numbers on his fingers.

“Yeah, but who doesn’t?” I said.

“Just yes or no. Do you believe in beauty?”


“Do you believe in freedom?”


“And above all things, do you believe in love?”

“Most definitely.”

“That’s bohemian.”

“Ok, but where in the bohemian movement does it say that lifting songs is cool?”

“It doesn’t, but it’s a unique idea.”

“Is it? Didn’t A Knight’s Tale come out before Moulin Rouge?”

“Ok,” Jamison said with an audible sigh, looking at my ceiling, “what’s more original…coming up with your own songs like everyone else, or taking other songs?”

“Are you kidding me? Writing your own freakin’ soundtrack.”

Jamison and I continued to debate, and both of us, I think, calmly articulated our points very well. We came to an understanding, and at the end of the discussion, he gave me the film and told me to watch it. So I did. And I loved it.

I mean, how could I not? The film begins with the main character being a disastrous and damaged bearded writer close to tears as he punches out his great tale of being a hopeless romantic that was consumed with love as the biggest thing in life, all the while living as bohmenian in Paris. Also, at some point, a hot redhead is rolling around in sexy lingerie, moaning as some cautiously confident and charming writer reads poetry in a lavishly decorated bedroom with a view.

The film seemed deliciously perfect for me and how I interpret/glamorize the writing process as well as love.

And Moulin Rouge had balance. The film has some of the silliest possible scenes, such as Christian joining Toulouse-Lautrec’s theater gang, complete with second-long reaction shots and cartoon sound effects. My brother’s impression of Moulin Rouge’s first act is just him widening his eyes and yelling really loud and frantic.

But Moulin Rouge also contains the most gut-wrenching scenes, such as when Christian cries at the end, holding Satine. So, the range of the characters able to balance the goofiest of goofs with the most tragic of tragedies is quite spectacular, spectacular (sorry, couldn’t resist). Actually, Moulin Rouge may have the best crying scene I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Seriously, when Christian is crying uncontrollably and wimpering pathetically over Satine…it made me sick to my stomach. It was that good. It made me feel uncomfortably and hopeless. His face is salty and gross and ruined with sadness and grief. It’s really just devastating to watch.

I mean, the movie is just devastating all-around.

Moulin Rouge is a truly devastating film. It is devastatingly glamorous, devastatingly flamboyant, devastatingly romantic, devastatingly dramatic, devastatingly character-driven and devastatingly heartbreaking. I loved it devastatingly.

But this particular argument is about how Moulin Rouge is also devastatingly unoriginal.

More specifically, I think the soundtrack is devastatingly unoriginal.

And that’s when everyone gets pissed.

Apparently, saying that you think Moulin Rouge’s soundtrack actually hurts the film is like saying everything about the movie is dumb.

“I really liked Moulin Rouge. It was colorful and fun, silly and serious, and it was so well-done. But even though I thought the musical numbers were rad, I think the whole modern songs thing actually kind of hurt the film,” I would say.

“Fuck you! Moulin Rouge is amazing!” they say.

“What? No, no, no, I liked the movie. It is pretty amazing. But the having random songs in there from David Bowie and The Beatles takes away from the magical and surreal feel that the film was trying to bring around.”

“Give me Moulin Rouge or give me death! You are banished from these lands” they may or may not say, their eyes turning a dizzying and disgusting red color with veins popping.

Ok, I’ll stop making up dialogue before it gets out of hand. But still, if you even critique the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge, you might as well just shit on the whole production, because you’ll get the same reaction.

I’ve had argument after argument about Moulin Rouge’s soundtrack this week.

“It’s cool to sing along to songs I know,” a few have said. But you know what? That’s weak. That’s what car rides and house parties are for.

Also, if a movie is good, you will probably watch it over and over again. You might even buy it. And you will probably learn the words. If Moulin Rouge’s soundtrack was good enough and original, you could’ve been singing along the second time you saw it. What, you adored how you could sing along to a movie you were seeing for the first time? Come on, that’s a totally bullshit cop-out to say that you like Moulin Rouge because it has songs you recognize the first time around.

You know who else has songs that you recognize? Cover bands. Ugh.

Saying that you like Moulin Rouge because it has songs you know is like voting for a president because he likes the same American beer that you do.

When I saw the stage musical Wicked for the first time, I sang the original tunes to myself on the way home. Why? Becuase they were so damn catchy, so damn good and just so damn well-arranged. And again, they were original. It was the first time I had heard the music or the words, but I sang them on the way home. Wicked would have been bogus if they had decided to adapt songs. Instead of the track “Popular,” they could have just used half of Avril Lavigne’s musical arsenal.

I feel it’s fair to compare the last musical I saw on stage and the last musical I saw on screen.

Also, it should be noted that I did have a favorite song in Moulin Rouge, and it turns out that it was also the only original composition. I thought ”Come What May” was unbelievably and outrageously good.

And I wish the rest of the movie was like that.

Instead, the movie offers up a “narrow” range of any song from the 20th Century. And it destroys all of what Moulin Rouge could have been. Scene by scene is systematically ruined by these lofty plays on the musical turntable of time, even though the mash-ups and covers are done extraordinarily well. I should probably mention that, though I think the idea botches the integrity of the film, the modern songs are done wonderfully. They really did put thought into what they were doing and how they would do it.

But while the elephant melody is spectacularly well-done, the main focus is not this bursting love between Christian and Satine. What catches the audience is the novelty of songs that recognize.

It doesn’t pose the question, “What will happened to these doomed lovers?” It becomes, “What song will I recognize next?”

Instead of a wondrous and unique composition that floats romantically between the penniless writer and the star actress as a hint of what is to come, the scene becomes a mash-up of love songs. This would only work if the film wasn’t a musical. Hypothetically, if you hire Girl Talk to do a soundtrack, it should be the soundtrack, not the theme of a musical. That’s a novelty act, like a monkey dancing for coins on a cobblestone street corner. It’s not art.

“But it’s such an original idea,” many fans have told me.

Moulin Rouge is based off of the Italian opera La Traviata, which was actually based off of the Dumas novel The Lady Of The Carmellia (which, to be fair, has been the basis of over ten films in France). So, where would the saving grace here be? Well, I think an amazing score of original musical compositions would have done the trick.

Ah yes…they did the exact opposite.

Instead of giving you a whole crazy, wild new world of art, love and wonder…they gave you a comfort zone. They gave you songs you like, knowing that you would find them fascinating in Paris 100 years ago, where they have no place. How wacky and wild, right? No. While an interesting concept, it claws at the character of Christian, because it makes him seem less creative and supporting characters seem dazzlingly inept.

Is it risky, crazy or original to put modern songs in a modern adaptation of long ago?

No, it’s an easy way to make sure that you like the film. It’s a light tactic to bring about fans for the music before the story. You’re already rooted in the movie because they have songs you like and recognize before even addressing anything else in Moulin Rouge.

The whole theme of “musical anachronism” steals whatever credit is left for Moulin Rouge, aside from the oustanding art direction and cinematography. However, those don’t make a movie. There needs to be a solid core to film, especially this flashy and bold, because it otherwise rattles off hollow and trite.

If you’re director Baz Luhrmann, you can’t say, “Well, we took the plot of the musical from an old opera and took the music from new artists.” Because when you do, then you have sincerely just admitted to not coming up with anything original.

“But it looks so good and it’s so fun,” Luhrmann may tell you. Doesn’t count, Aussie. That’s the defense of every shitty action movie that comes out each and every summer where something is blowing up every few minutes.

That’s not truth, beauty or freedom. And what is left of a great love story if everything’s borrowed?

What charisma and compassion do I have left for the saintly characters that ring out the evening sound of music, dance, art and sex, if they’re not even singing their own tunes?

I don’t care how fun it is to recognize songs. That doesn’t work for movies. That works for songs. The reason I love mash-ups is because I think it’s quite impressive to mismatch lyrics and music from two entirely different tracks. However, mash-ups songs are fun to listen to because the music is the only part of the project. When you’re listening to mash-ups, the mash-ups are everything. When you’re watching Moulin Rouge, the mash-ups are not the main theme. The story (plot, characters, setting, etc) of the movie is the main point. That’s what deserves your full attention.

However, your full attention disappears as soon as you hear “The Sound Of Music.”

“Hey, I recognize that song,” you giggle to yourself.

Your first response has nothing to do with the characters. You don’t acknowledge Christian as a magnificent songwriter. You don’t give him credit. He gets nothing from you. The song becomes important, but you miss the song’s importance.

Now, after “The Sound Of Music,” there is a chance to suggest that every musical that followed Moulin Rouge’s Spectacular, Spectacular in the 20th Century stole from Christian’s play. For this notion to work, every song in the film would have to be from a notable musical. If each song has a strong reason for being there on its own, it works as a focused collection.

Do you know why Mamma Mia works as a musical? Because it’s centralized to songs by ABBA. The genre is called “jukebox musicals.” I kid you not. It’s a thing. Look it up. But I’m not saying it has to be set to a particular group. It could just be a genre. It just needs to have some sort of structure. Like I said, if, after “The Sound Of Music,” what followed was just musical numbers, that could’ve worked.

But too soon do you hear the love hymn of ballad anthems, Elton John’s “Your Song.”

And from there, the film loses its best of edges.

How can we be transported to this almost fairy tale world of artists, writers, dancers, actors and lovers, from 100 years ago in a foreign country, if we recognize nearly every song as loud things we constantly hear on spastic music channels or at our nearest bars?

Instead of creating this splendid and overwhelmingly unique, almost tribal, array of bohemian artists, the audience never travels too far, because they are grounded in the roots of everyone from Dolly Parton to T-Rex.

That’s the problem. The soundtrack is obnoxiously obtuse. There’s no speculation of any arrangement. It’s not just songs from musicals that are lifted. It appears that any song from the last half of the 20th Century is the range. That doesn’t count as being wild and interesting. That’s a poorly chosen selection of songs. It’s too random. That’s fine if you want to do something new, but sometimes, something new kills what could’ve been something great.

So, did Luhrmann and his music directors look at every song with the word “love” in it and try to figure out what would work?

That’s too messy to be functioning. It may have worked if it was limited to a similar theme. Again, maybe if it was only musicals, it would become “that song needs to be in the film” instead of “that song could be in the film.”

But to suggest that the play in Moulin Rouge or the sole character of Christian influenced every genre in the 20th Century is so outrageously laughable.

I mean, in 2001, an Australian director made a movie about a French landmark in 1899 with a soundtrack that ranges from the 1950s to the 1990s? Come on…hat seems like a gigantic longshot. And if you’re shooting for that longshot, you better be sure your aim is on target. And it wasn’t.

However, Luhrmann thought he was absolutely on-target. In fact, he spent two years securing the rights to these songs. His motivation seemed logical, but ultimately failed.

Luhrmann said that he considered the themes of the tragic Greek character Orpheus, a musical genius. Luhrmann decided to use songs from the mid-to-late 20th Century to make Christian appear to be an innovative musician and writer to the other chacaracters.

Now, here’s how that fails: Christian isn’t the only character to sing songs from the future. Harold Zidler sings Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” and the Argentinian with the wild facial hair sings The Police’s “Roxanne.” Also, remember the whole mash-up melody when all the men sing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the women sing “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” by Carol Channing / Marilyn Monroe? Christian didn’t write any of that.

So how the hell does Christian seem like a songwriter prodigy if everyone else can and is continuously writing songs from the future?

He doesn’t. Sure, Christian scores extra points from his fellow bohemian revolution comrades for being talented, but he’s not extraordinarily more talented than them. Even at the end, you think of Toulouse-Lautrec and Harold Zidler as almost mentors of sorts. Even the Argentinian shows up Christian when he initially sings “Roxanne” as a bitter lecture.

Also, if you want your main character to seem like he wrote some amazing original songs as this magnificently talented songwriter, maybe using songs that everyone knows from the last 20 years isn’t the way to go about that. Even in fiction, I consider either Elton John or Bernie Taupin as the one who wrote “Your Song.” When I hear a crowd of flashy theater troopers singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I go right to Kurt Cobain, not whoever you’re selling on the screen. I know what the director was thinking he could do, but it doesn’t work like that. If you play a song that Madonna made famous before I even understood music, then I’m immediately going to think of Madonna, not Christian, Satine or Zidler. That isn’t forwarding the story. It’s actually a huge distraction from the potential the film and its characters had.

The list goes on and on. From start to finish, the inclusion of modern songs ruin the film. It could have been one of my favorite musicals if it had an original soundtrack. I like a lot of musicals, love some of them even. But I can’t see myself saying, “Oh, I just loved how Moulin Rouge mixed in Phil Collins with Kiss.” Give me a break.

Baz Luhrmann screwed up.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"I Feel Home.."

"I Feel Home..."
right before leaving by jake kilroy

I feel home...
in treehouses,
at carnivals,
at small town fairs,
in big city lofts,
on a short run,
on a long drive,
in bed,
in the shower,
in bed with a girl,
in the shower with a girl,
in control,
in doubt,
in misery,
in blue jeans.

"Carolina Blonde"

"Carolina Blonde"
in a mocking array by jake kilroy.

Some years after you faded into the mountain ash,
of trees that burned or yearned to be churned,
evolving into the paper that carries my poetry,
which are really just mildly disguised threats,
I remembered you, over and over.

And I thought of all the photographs stuck inside my dresser,
all the trinkets that had fallen behind my desk,
and the mass army of jewelry you left on my nightstand,
even after all those fights we had on the floor,
and I thought of how we ruined.

So, you built a log cabin out of a stifling apartment,
and I grew my hair out to match the cigarettes,
which always dangle lower than my slurry tongue,
as I always kissed the bottle rim more than your pink lips,
and I couldn't stop laughing.

The sun came up, and I still hadn't an appetite,
as I remember the taste of you more than any breakfast,
and even then, I didn't sink the prayer of a long drive,
but got dressed, wiping away the ache of my eyes,
with a slight pain in my grin.

But don't think me sentimental, as I rarely keep it clean,
as I'm one to taint the purest of excuses with afterthoughts,
but instead, I just thought of the past like a tornado,
a beautiful wreck that won't ever hit my house again,
while I sleep heavier than you.