Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2015 January 28 • Wednesday

Marshall Jon Fisher's A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played is a pretty good read, keeping to a minimum the common tendency to "novelize" works of non-fiction. There are few of those moments when the author tells us how, eighty years ago, somebody has a thought and then smiles ruefully on account of it or some similar nonsense.

It's no Levels of the Game, of course, a fact Fisher acknowledges himself. But it's hard to imagine there ever being another Levels of the Game. But it is an absorbing account of an amazing tennis match. The first line is "July the twentieth, 1937, and Baron Gottfried von Cramm tosses a new white Slazenger tennis ball three feet above his head". The baron's opponent is the American Don Budge and the two players are from very different backgrounds: the aristocrat versus the hayseed, more or less.

This match at Wimbledon is part of the Davis Cup champion, which means that the other two opponents are the United States and Nazi Germany. Cramm is no Nazi, however. Being a gay aristocrat, the friend of Jews and artists and a sometimes vocal critic of his new government has brought him to the brink of being declared an enemy of the state.

As long as he keeps winning tennis matches for Germany, he might stay out of jail. He feels that he's playing for his life.

The other major player, though he's not on the court for this match, is tennis legend Bob Tilden, an American who has become friends with the Baron and is coaching the German team. His own very interesting story is told in this book. Tilden was a big enough name in the first half of the twentieth century, and prominent enough in the American cultural landscape, it turns out, to earn a cameo in Nabokov's Lolita.

This is probably a book only for people really interested in tennis. It made me want to know more about these early legendary players, the first tennis superstars.
2015 January 26 • Monday

An old favorite, Lalo Schifrin's music for Enter the Dragon, is the 355th Soundtrack of the Week.

This extended edition has a lot more music than the original soundtrack album release. The highlight is still the main title theme, which appears in a number of different treatments (in "Su-Lin (The Monk)", "Into the Night" etc.). It's a wonderfully slinky melody supported by killer grooves.

Schifrin does his best to create music that sounds authentically Chinese in tracks such as "Han's Island" and "The Banquet".

He's on more familiar territory with "Headset Jazz", some mellow groovy business featuring electric piano. He gets pretty damn loungey with "The Gentle Softness", a track worthy of Henry Mancini.

Another standout is, of course, the music for the famous mirror scene. The whole CD is really great!

2015 January 23 • Monday

"Weird Al" Yankovic's most recent record, Mandatory Fun, reached number one last year. Sometimes nice guys finish first!

(And according to Wikipedia, “Weird Al”, Michael Jackson and Madonna are the only three artists to have a top 40 hit in every decade since the 1980s.)

It first came to my attention when a friend played me "Foil", a parody of Lourde's "Royals". I liked it but it was in the background and it wasn't until several months later that I watched the music video and paid attention to the song.

It turns out to be genius. And so is almost every song on this record.

"Now That's What I Call Polka" is not only a return to Al's roots but an ingenious twist on his usual approach. He keeps the lyrics to a number of hit songs but sets them to his own Spike Jones and His City Slickers-inspired arrangement.

"Sports Song" is a thrilling and Zappa-esque mockery of cheerleading and pep rallies and, by extension, nationalism and propaganda.

"First World Problems" makes fun of the whining of the rich and selfish. It's great but Yankovic's most valuable service is to take a huge pop hit and give it new lyrics that make it very silly. By doing so he highlights how self-aggrandizing, self-important and pretentious the original was.

This is why "Tacky", the parody of "Happy", is just as good as the original and not much of a transformation. The original song was fun, not boastful or po-faced. The best thing about both songs is the music, not the lyrics.

"Weird Al" rescues the hooks and grooves of "Fancy" by turning them into the backing track of "Handy", an ad for a contractor/handyman service. “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons is hilariously reworked as “Inactive”, a song about being very, very enervated. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” becomes “Word Crimes”, an amusing song about common uses of improper English grammar, syntax, spelling etc. (Apparently the split infinitive in one line was used intentionally to see if we would notice.)

“My Own Eyes” is a funny song about things the singer wishes he hadn’t seen. The music reminded me of Foo Fighters. It’s the least awesome number on the CD, though I enjoy the music part of it more than the music part of “Sports Song”.

“Lame Claim to Fame” is another original and a really great one, basically a very clever riff on name-dropping. Art Garfunkel and Kevin Bacon get me every time. (“Tacky” also has a great bit about name-dropping. At least that’s what Kanye West keeps telling me.)

As far as I know, “Weird Al” Yanjovic is never mean. He lampoons, he mocks, he takes the wind out of sails, he crumbles huge monuments to huger egos but he always appears to have a sunny and gentle temperament. Mandatory Fun does have one genuine satire with a biting edge.

Yankovic rides the momentum of his own optimism to create “Mission Statement”, a song that rubs everybody’s face in how all the energy that baby boomers once put into the dreams and ideals associated with the 1960s, has found a new home in the corporate boardroom. They went from Woodstock to stock brokers. The song, with its backward guitar solo and CSN&Y-style vocal arrangement, is devastating. It’s another one whose video should really be seen as well.

Before “Weird Al” there was Tom Lehrer, whose similarly absurd and dangerous spirit is in sympathy with the last number, a massive, nine-minute pop opus called “Jackson Park Express”. The story is simple. The singer sees a woman get on the bus and he fantasizes that they have a connection and imagines that they are communicating non-verbally with each other. In moments she goes from complete stranger to mother of their children, in his mind. The lyrics are sometimes silly, sometimes violently unsettling. At one point you might wonder if the singer is Ed Gein.

“Weird Al” Yankovic is my hero.
2015 January 21 • Monday

The Moonraker soundtrack Kickstarter project mentioned earlier reached its goal but then got canceled. So never mind about that. A re-recording of the score is still possible, even probable, but it's not going to happen as soon as the Kickstarter-funded one would have done.

2015 January 19 • Monday

The 354th Soundtrack of the Week is Asei Kobayashi’s music for the 1969 TV series Flower Action 009-1.

It’s a great CD with lots of cues in various cues. There’s lots of surf, lounge and acid rock influences.

The very groovy theme song is performed by “Zero Zero Girls”. There isn’t much in the way of lyrics: a lot of “009-1”, a countdown from 9 to 1 and some wordless vocalizing. There’s a psychedelic guitar solo and a killer groove throughout.

In general there’s a ton of great guitar playing and incredible rhythm tracks on these tunes.

Do yourself a favor and watch the opening credits here. The show looks like it was pretty awesome.

2015 January 16 • Friday

R.I.P. Brian Clemens.
2015 January 14 • Wednesday

John Barry's score to Moonraker has always been one of my favorites. The tapes of the original recording are apparently lost and the woefully incomplete soundtrack album has had to do—so far.

Tadlow Records and conductor Nic Raine, who have combined forces several times before to produce breathtakingly great re-recordings of great scores, are ready to work their magic on Moonraker.

But they need money. Not really that much, if you ask me. Their Kickstarter campaign has a few weeks to go and they're about two-thirds away from their goal. I joined it within seconds of hearing about it. Maybe you'd like to also!

2015 January 12 • Monday

The 353rd Soundtrack of the Week is Morning of the Earth. It's a great collection of rock/pop songs, most with some kind of trippy and psychedelic feel. Apparently this was Australia's first gold record!

This two-CD version has stuff that wasn't on the original release. The second disc is all new material, I guess re-recordings of the original songs by bands and musicians from today. I haven't listened to Disc Two yet and I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for me to do so.

But the songs on Disc One are great!

2015 January 09 • Friday

Time to recommend some things to you all. First up is The Left Side, a new record by singer/songwriter Dave Doobinin. I play guitar on two tracks, including this amazing song "Skywriter". You can check out the video for it here.

I was blown away by Dave's music and it was a great experience to work with producer and drummer Jeff Lipstein. It's a rare privilege to know such people, let alone work with them! This record comes out on Tuesday, January 13th. I think you should get it!

Another person I'm very honored to know and work with is drummer/singer/songwriter/all around awesome person Chris Moore. He has a new record out, Harmless Blues, on which he plays almost all the instruments in addition to writing and singing amazing songs!

This record, as well as a new EP, Community Service, that's Chris with a great band featuring the aforementioned Jeff Lipstein on drums, are available now or out soon. Go here and get them! They've both been getting a lot of play around our house.

2015 January 07 • Wednesday

All the King's Men (1949)

2015 January 05 • Monday

So here we are in the year 2015. (Please keep your "Where's my flying car?" outbursts to yourself.)

We've been doing a Soundtrack of the Week every Monday for about seven years. The last year or so I haven't had the time or energy or the rest of it to do justice to the music. (Probably I never actually did justice to the music. You want justice? Then listen to the music yourself!)

It's become kind of a drag, actually, the whole weekly soundtrack thing, the whole blog thing. I've never been on Facebook and I don't want to lose those bragging rights, not yet, but I get the appeal. It's so much easier.

And then I had to update the OS for our Mac so I could get iMovie to work so I could make these #%£&$@! video projects for my freaking band—another thing, like the Soundtrack of the Week and the Monday-Wednesday-Friday blog posts that should be filed under—or tagged as—"why oh why?"—and the new system wouldn't run Dreamweaver, which I had bought years ago—yes, bought, with money!

The way it works now, you can't buy Dreamweaver. You buy a subscription to it for something like ten dollars a month if you want it to work with Yosemite or Mountain Lion or Yeti or Slime Mold or whatever the hell this operating system is called.

Let's see, I bought Dreamweaver for $60 or whatever it cost at least ten years ago and used it all the time. If they had had this nifty subscription plan going back then, I'd now be out something like $1200, assuming a ten dollar a month rate.

No way.

So I lost it. Even though I bought it and theoretically owned it. And now I'm using some free web designer thing that forces me to write html. (Can I at least get my $60 back, Dreamweaver?)

I was already struggling to keep up with a modest update schedule here and now it got significantly harder, now that I'm doing this crap by hand because I have an aversion to monthly fees. (I have never done Netflix and haven't had cable TV for over seven years.)

As the new year dawned I found myself thinking, "Screw it. I don't have the time, it's a drag and it just got a lot more annoying. Just ditch the blogging.") Seemed reasonable to me.

But then I got this package from Ark Soundtrack Square in Japan. There's some new label called Cinema-kan and they've put out three CDs of music from 1960s Nikkatsu gangster movies. This is the kind of thing I used to dream about it and here it is in real life.

And so the 352nd Soundtrack of the Week, goddam it, is Harumi Ibe's score for Suzuki Seijun's Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards!. It's a jazz/rock and roll hybrid, simple, frantic and effective, alternating intense energy with moody atmospheres.

That's all I've got to say. Buy the CD if you want to know more—or watch the movie. It was released on DVD in the US six years ago. I saw it at the Japan Society at some point and don't remember anything about it.