Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hero of the Day: Arlen Specter

I'm so happy that Arlen Specter is leaving the Republican party and becoming a Democrat! Now we just need Norm Coleman to drop his stupid appeal and admit that he lost to Al Franken, and the Democrats will have 60 seats in the Senate, and we can make this country awesome again! And what does it say about the GOP that they can't tolerate Arlen Specter? I mean, it's not like he's flamingly liberal or anything. That GOP tent is just getting smaller and smaller all the time. But that's fine with me. If they want to have a party of no one but Sarah Palin, more power to them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Met Robyn Hitchcock!

Robyn Hitchcock performed on Sunday night at the Varsity Theater, and I was there to see the show. It was the first time I've seen Robyn in concert, and it was great! The Varsity is a really small theater, so I was probably about 20 or 30 feet away from the stage. Robyn was performing with the Venus 3, Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and Bill Rieflin. It was a really rocking show! It seemed like Robyn played a lot of the lead guitar work, I knew he was an amazing acoustic guitar player, but I was impressed by his electric work too. Robyn played for 2 hours, and he said they threw in some extra songs because this was the last night of the tour. He told some stories about Kate Winslet's mouth, Earl the Penguin, who lives on a neon green traffic cone, and the Foshay Tower. (The Foshay Tower was at one point the tallest building west of the Mississippi, it's an iconic Minneapolis landmark, still standing.) At the end of the show Robyn said, "Peter and I have carved miniature replicas of the Foshay Tower out of soap, we'll be autographing them at the merch table afterwards." Well, there were no Foshay Towers made out of soap, but there were little green traffic cones drawn on by Robyn for sale.

When Robyn first came out he looked a little sluggish, but I overheard him say afterwards that he had just eaten a big dinner and was really full of food, so it took him about 10 songs to get into the show! He opened with a solo acoustic cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me," an homage to the Dinkytown area in which the Varsity is located, and where Dylan hung out when he attended the University of Minnesota. (The 4th Street in "Positively 4th Street" could be the one in Dinkytown, so some people say.) After he played it he said, "That song was by Bob Dylan, the rest of the songs are by Robyn Hitchcock." I cheered. Then the band came out and Robyn switched to his blue electric guitar for a beautiful version of "I Often Dream of Trains." Next came "What You Is," the opening track from "Goodnight Oslo," and that's when the rocking began.

I got to meet Robyn after the show at the merch table, he was really nice, as you would expect, he signed people's shirts, posed for pictures, etc. I told him thanks for playing "Beautiful Queen," which is one of my all-time favorite songs of his, he said, "Glad you enjoyed it." I got to shake his hand and tell him I think he's one of the greatest songwriters, he kind of laughed and said, "Well, I'm certainly one of the oldest!" So, yeah, I said what I wanted to say, and I hopefully didn't sound like a moron. It's tough to talk to someone whose music means a lot to you, what do you say? Like if I ever met David Bowie, or Paul McCartney, how could I possibly tell them all that their music has meant to me over the years? I couldn't, all you can hope for is not sounding like a doofus. I'd love to interview Robyn for hours, he's so smart and quick-witted.

Here's what Robyn played, I'm sure I'm missing a couple of songs, and the order isn't perfect:

She Belongs to Me-Dylan cover, solo acoustic
I Often Dream of Trains
What You Is
Brenda's Iron Sledge
N.Y. Doll
Saturday Groovers
Madonna of the Wasps
Hurry for the Sky
I'm Falling-all 3 of the above were written for the as-yet-unmade movie "The Fifth Beatle," about Brian Epstein
Up to Our Nex-with a snatch of Bowie's Young Americans thrown in!
Beautiful Queen-a simply gorgeous version of this gorgeous song!
The Authority Box
I'm Hot For You-? solo acoustic encore
The Insect
Goodnight Oslo

All in all, an amazing show! Thanks Robyn, come back again soon!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jesus of Cool Sale

Okay, I know I talk about Yep Roc Records a lot. But I have to give them a shout out because they are having an Easter Jesus of Cool Nick Lowe Sale! How fitting! Speaking as an agnostic, I rather enjoy the cheeky humor of it all. So right now you can get Jesus of Cool, The Convincer, and At My Age for $9.99 each. They're all more than worth it, so anyone who reads this blog who doesn't own all 3 CD's needs to get themselves over to Yep Roc and check out Nick! I wonder if Yep Roc would be willing to hire me as an official Nick Lowe/Robyn Hitchcock historian/archivist?

Nick Lowe in Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair somehow tore themselves away from their usual subject matter of Princess Diana, the Kennedys, and Marilyn Monroe long enough to interview Nick Lowe. I don't know if this article is actually in the magazine or not, I read it online, but it's quite good. (Despite the writer's rather insulting question, "Did you always look the age you are now?") There's also an interesting anecdote about Huey Lewis at the end.

Here's the link:


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief"

I just watched Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 film "To Catch a Thief," starring the incomparably gorgeous combination of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. It's one of Hitch's slighter efforts, but enjoyable all the same. The third star of the film is the scenery around Monaco and the South of France, where the movie was filmed. The film tells the tale of John Robie, a former jewel thief who finds that someone is imitating his robberies, in the hopes that the police will blame Robie for the robberies. Robie is determined to prove his innocence, but he has significant obstacles in his path. Through his friend Hughson, who works for an insurance company, Robie is able to obtain a list of who owns the most valuable jewels in the area. Robie's idea is to pinpoint when the copycat thief will strike again, and then Robie will be able to catch them in the act. Which is where Grace Kelly, playing Frances Stevens, comes in. (Finally! It takes half an hour before she gets significant screen time.) Kelly is on vacation with her mother, who owns lots of expensive jewelry. Kelly's mother is played by Jessie Royce Landis, who, ironically, went on to play Cary Grant's mother in "North By Northwest," even though she was only 10 years older than Grant!

Robie pretends to be a vacationing American (!) and wins the trust of Kelly and Landis. (Cary Grant as an American? With that accent?) There is an instant attraction between Kelly's character and Robie, and she pursues him despite the fact that she thinks he might be the jewel thief. And fireworks ensue, literally. The dialogue between Grant and Kelly is spiced with double-entendres that must have seemed quite racy in 1955, and gave the censors headaches. One of the most famous scenes in "To Catch a Thief" takes place in Kelly's hotel room, as she and Grant observe a fireworks display out of the window. It's a gorgeous scene, dimly lit, with Grant looking dapper in his tuxedo standing in half-light at the window, and Kelly, looking gorgeous in a white chiffon gown, imploring Grant to touch her necklace. It's pretty sexy stuff.

In a way, "To Catch a Thief" is kind of a dry-run for "North By Northwest." Cary Grant is at his most dapper and unflappable in both films, they both feature Hitchcock's trademark "mistaken identity" premise, Grant is involved in perilous car chases on cliffs in both films, and in both films he is pursued by gorgeous blondes who are anything but coy. (Compare the initial scenes with Grace Kelly in TCAT to those with Eva Marie Saint in NBN.) "To Catch a Thief" is not a masterpiece in the way that "Vertigo" or "North By Northwest" are, but it's still a highly enjoyable film, made more so by the charisma of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.