Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2015 September 30 • Wednesday

Professional book reviewers, you are dismissed.

2015 September 28 • Monday

Cliff Martinez's music for Drive is the 390th Soundtrack of the Week.

The movie has a dream-like and fluid quality to it that's matched perfectly by Martinez's ethereal music.

The music is performed by Martinez himself, on Cristal Baschet, accompanied by Mac Quayle on guitar and Gregory Tripi on saz and sitar.

There are also a few songs that take up some prime sonic real estate in the movie and soundtrack CD and they work really well also.

2015 September 25 • Friday

Ted Rall has put out a small book about Edward Snowden. It's worth reading.

It very concisely presents the author's view of who Snowden is, where he came from, what he did, why he did it and why it matters. There is also a small selection of reactions to what Snowden did.

There's enough material here for a much bigger work, but this is, I think, a good starting point for the interested general reader. And if it inspires you to do some research on Snowden and the NSA, to work out for yourself what happened and whether it should have happened, well, that's a good thing, regardless of what side you take.

2015 September 23 • Wednesday

The American Splendor movie was a critical and commercial success but as a long-time admirer of the comic, I was disappointed. It seemed to me simplistic and trite and gave me the feeling that the filmmakers were trying for something more like Annie Hall than American Splendor.

I was a teenager when I was reading Harvey Pekar's groundbreaking comics and I found the world of this middle-aged file clerk to be almost unbearable exciting.

There's a nice kind of symmetry in finding myself middle-aged and reading an autobiographical comic about a teenager.

It's not strictly a comic, actually, combining text, illustrations, photographs and pages of straight-up comics. It's also not strictly autobiography, according to Gloeckner's introductory note.

But Diary of a Teenage Girl is intense, harrowing in its direct and apparently unvarnished story-telling. It's not a simple coming-of-age story.

There's a movie out of this one, too, and the trailer makes it look like an offensively lightweight adaptation of a very heavy book. I can't imagine seeing it.

It looks like a cute, heart-warming, girl-power movie. Nothing in the preview reminded me of anything from the book. Something tells me that Minnie is not going to get pimped by one of her girlfriends in exchange for drugs, that nobody's going to vomit while having sex and that Minnie's body won't get covered by painful boils as the result of an infection from a dirty needle.

It gave me a great idea for a movie: The Diary of Anne Frank, but set in 1970s San Francisco.

2015 September 21 • Monday

The 389th Soundtrack of the Week is Carmen Dragon's score for a great movie, a real classic: Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The music is very forward looking, particularly in its aggressive use of staccato piano passages to indicate danger. It's hard not to think of Jerry Goldsmith when listening to it.

Pretty much every cue is inspiring in how effectively and economonically it creates mood and atmosphere. While it's mostly tense and suspenseful writing, the love theme and other more relaxed pieces are also incredibly well done.

Dragon's ability to take some simple figures and use them to build excitement simply by a canny use of dynamics and instrumentation is formidable, perhaps best expressed in the "They're Over Here" music.

Really a great score to a great movie. The music heard on its own is something like a revelation.

2015 September 18 • Friday

The only things I know about Fifty Shades of Grey are that the book sold a lot of copies and that the movie was apparently terrible. For the latter information I'm indebted to my favorite YouTubers, Cinema Sins, and their Everything Wrong With Fifty Shades of Grey.

At some point it occurred to me that Fifty Shades of Grey might be the Peyton Place of this cultural moment. But who has read Peyton Place?

As of a few days ago, I have.

The first line is "Indian summer is like a woman". Apparently this means that Indian summer and women are "ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle".

This is hardly a promising beginning for a book that some are hoping to claim as making some kind of important contribution to feminism. And the portrayal of women is generally downhill from there. If its author had been male I suspect that Peyton Place would be regarded as an incredibly sexist book.

Fair's fair, though, and there isn't a single person in the book who seems even remotely like a realistic person. With the exception of a few fantasy characters whose virtues shine so bright that your eyes start to hurt, everybody is generally messed up or somehow despicable.

Despite all of this, Peyton Place begins promisingly enough and had me hoping it might have been something of a bridge that connected the first novels of Shirley Jackson and Harper Lee while acknowledging the influences of Thornton Wilder and Booth Tarkington.

But after a while the story becomes more like a slasher movie than anything else, with Grace Metalious, the author, as the implacable monster who stalks the characters and delivers some horrible fate on them: rape, incest, dismemberment, death—there's even a scene where an axe tastes human blood. It's practically Friday the 13th in small-town New Hampshire!

It felt good to read it, however, and to acquire more than just vague associations to connect to the name Peyton Place. And I was interested to learn that the action of the book takes place in the 1930s and '40s, not in the 1950s, which was when the book came out.

2015 September 14 • Monday

If you enjoyed the music for Lawrence of Arabia, then it's likely you'll react favorably to the 388th Soundtrack of the Week, Maurice Jarre's A Passage to India.

It's similar to Jarre's Lawrence music, but with the inevitable addition of tambura and other Indian instruments.

The ondes Martenot is once again employed to great effectiveness. Jarre has come up with several beautiful themes and stirring atmospheric passages.

Also included are a few marches and processional cues.

2015 September 07 • Monday

It's a holiday so we'll take a break from everything with The Girl on a Motorcycle, whose music by Les Reed is the 387th Soundtrack of the Week!

It's probably what you'd expect, swinging '60s-type pop/rock and lounge tracks.

Reed has a nice ear for arrangements, though, dignifying several of these cues with lush textures and effective uses of orchestral color.

There are also a few vocal numbers performed by Mireille Mathieu and Cleo Laine.

2015 September 02 • Wednesday

"Peyton Place is a dirty lie!" declared Lenny Bruce in "Lima, Ohio", his great bit about small American towns (referenced by Bob Neuwirth in Don't Look Back).

It came to mind because I've just picked up Peyton Place to read and was struck by something Ardis Cameron wrote in her introduction to this edition.

For readers of books in the 1950s, there were two ways to traverse the borders of middlebrow culture and taste. One way was to follow the road marked "Literature" and take up the kinds of "serious" books cultural authorities deemed both universal and timeless. The other was to embrace the reading habits of what Margaret Widdemer called the "tabloid addict class," whose proclivities for cheap paperback novels—mysteries, romances, science fiction, westerns, and the mildly salacious novels alternately referred to as "sexy" or "sleazy"—defined for the middle classes the demimonde of the socially deviant and the culturally impoverished. Here, critics agreed, was the literary landscape of the low: inexpensive books with hard-hitting stories and fast-paced writing, their covers promising the "inside" story, "true" romance, or "frank, uninhibited" tales of violent emotions.

Cameron has written a book about Peyton Place which I look forward to reading after I read the novel itself.

But that paragraph of her introduction jumped out at me because it so perfectly describes the book I just read, David Karp's The Big Feeling (1952).

The first line is "The feeling was good".

It's actually pretty great, definitely violent and sleazy. Frank Ames is saddled with an abusive childhood, some complicated feelings about sex and masturbation, a blatant Oedipal complex and enough homophobia that he has to castrate and murder the gay man who helps him rob a bank in the beginning of the book.

The action skips back and forth between present day and Frank's past, showing his ascension from car thief to gang member to bank robber and so on.

There's an armored car robbery that's something of a tour de force of irony, surpassed only by the twist of fate that ends Frank's story.

None of this would matter very much if the quality of the writing weren't so high. Not only is the pacing perfect and the characters well drawn, but the language itself is disarmingly precise and musical.

I picked this book up in San Francisco last week. After reading it I went to put it on the shelf and found that I already owned it. But my first copy was a different edition, published in 1967.

The later edition makes it sound like Ames was a real person. And what it says about Mae Davidson isn't true—or at least wasn't true in the 1952 edition.