Best Summer Film Festival
Newport International Film Festival
In Newport, RI, of all places, kinda off the beaten path (no direct flights
from Cannes or to Telluride), but the June 5 weekend brought excellent weather
to a spot quiet and cozy enough for you to actually think about the movies rather
than the biz. Among the fare was George Hickenlooper’s film version of
the Orson Welles script The Big Brass Ring (starring William Hurt, who
won the Festival Jury’s lone acting prize) and Rory Kennedy’s documentary
American Hollow. An assortment of panels offered heated (yet air-conditioned)
debate on the state of cinema. In between movies you could tour Newport itself–a
place of special interest to filmgoers who remember how the credit sequence
for Reversal of Fortune featured aerial shots of the area’s grand
estates. Hourly tours take you there, visiting robber baron haunts as well as
the backgrounds to that Jeremy Irons-Glenn Close melodrama. And in the evenings,
the festival’s parties mixed local enthusiasts and filmmakers at several
of Newport’s historic summer cottages (mansions to you outsiders)–including
a big clambake on closing night.
This film festival is the only one in the country featuring greenery as a respite.
It’s a breezy place to take in choice indies and grand remnants of American
social history–just a couple of hours away by a New York train.
Best New Animal Attraction in the Bronx
Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo
Fordham Rd. (Bronx River Pkwy.), the Bronx
No, Not Fordham’s Freshmen.
There’s more to the Bronx than the Yankees and inner-city despair. The
Bronx Zoo’s come up with a winner of a exhibit: the Congo Gorilla Forest
opened in June to rave reviews from simian lovers all around New York.
What’s it all about? The new exhibit’s a 6.5-acre habitat that contains
the largest breeding group of lowland gorillas in North America. If you want
to visit on the cheap, stop by on Wednesdays when admission to the zoo is free.
Otherwise the freight’s $7.75 for adults, $4 for seniors and children between
two and 12. And the new gorilla exhibit’s so popular that it costs an extra
three bucks to get in.
But it’s worth the coin. First you watch a short film about the African
low-mountain ecosystem. Then the film ends, the screen rises and–whoa!–gorillas
behind glass, staring their human cousins down! (If you have toddlers, by the
way, be prepared–this gambit always stimulates a mad rush toward the window.
Sometimes the animals are on the wrong side of the glass.) After the screening
room business, you walk down a long corridor and check out the gorillas hanging
out in their big, happy families.
The exhibit gets crowded, and the wait to get in can be more than an hour.
But if you come early, around 10 a.m., or after 4 p.m., you’ll usually
wait no longer than 15 minutes.
Best DIY Record Label
DIY Still Rules.
In an era when even “independent” labels are attached to the tentacles
of some multinational corporation somewhere along the way, it is ultra-refreshing
to see the local Vital Music Records still cranking out releases after a decade
now. Formed in 1989 by Tom Cassar, bass player of the Sea Monkeys, the label
got its first boost with the awesome collection of 7-inch 45s they released
to combat the crap Sub Pop was pushing from Seattle at the time. Vital released
singles from locals like Karen Black, the Lunachicks, Ween, Alice Donut, Iron
Prostate (pre-Furious George Tabb), Mr. T. Experience and many more. The records
sold like crazy, and this gave Tom and company the money they needed to continue
to do bigger and better things.
One of these was a version of Tommy condensed to seven minutes–the
whole rock opera in seven minutes, a blazing medley of all the songs performed
by more than 12 bands in less time than it takes to listen to “Baba O’Riley.”
And things didn’t slow down after that. Vital went on to release more than
50 records, and they now distribute independent releases from all over the world.
With 5000-plus releases in their catalog (which can be yours for free by calling
777-5021 or writing to P.O. Box 210, NYC 10276-0210) there is quite literally
something for everyone there.
For remaining truly independent and not sucking the ass of any corporations,
no way no how, we salute this Do It Yourself record label. We also enjoy the
monthly rock shows at Vital’s offices, with performances by acts they either
record or distribute. Call them for info on that, too. Or just call them to
tell them they rule.
Best Gallery Exhibitions
Christian Schumann at Postmasters
Inka Essenhigh at Jeffrey Deitch
Alex Ross at Mary Boone
All exhibitions of newly rejuvenated, tack-smart, art world-reforming painting,
the work of these three accomplished young artists puts the final lie to the
inane, retrograde desire of certain conceptual and/or multiculti-minded folks
to consign painting to the trashbin of history (imagine!). Willing to
take previously politicized postmodernism at face value, this troika of artists
spearheads what is today a fearless new movement in painting. Ready for anything,
Schumann, Essenhigh and Ross pump style and painterliness for all they’re
worth, eschewing grand narratives and mincing ironies in the same breath, while
shamelessly getting at projects that engage meaning. Each in his or her inimitable
way–Schumann via wacky victims and perps, Essenhigh through disporting,
acid-colored mugwumps and Ross through the endless suggestion served up by his
green biomorphic figures–at once take on figuration and abstraction, pop
culture and the canon, the painterly concerns of Duccio and the conceptual strategies
of Duchamp. Together with other painters like Karen Davie, Lisa Yuskavage, John
Currin, Lisa Ruyter and Michael Bevilacqua, Schumann, Essenhigh and Ross represent
at least the beginning of a new beginning (if not a dawning in their own right).
In a word, the work of these three painters deserves the art world’s ultimate
compliment: Their efforts might easily turn out to be the most “radical”
development of the decade.
Best Thing to Happen to the Rock Scene
The Closing of Coney Island High
The Music Died, Man. Face
it, the place was a dungeon–the smokiest, most claustrophobic freak show
in the city. And though the Coney was one of the few venues in the city to maintain
a genuinely lively schedule, the truth is they booked way too many power-violence
bores and over-the-hill metal acts. Plus, a very convincing rumor has it, they
oversold every show by cheating on ticket sales, adding their second-floor capacity
to the downstairs room so that twice as many tattooed seven-footers with spikes
on their belts and sweat stains the size of welcome mats could crowd and shove
their way across the floor–a very plausible scenario, given the venue’s
relative emptiness on slow nights and Calcutta-like stifling crowdedness on
the “big” nights. Good riddance. Maybe it’ll have the welcome
effect of unloading some of the local punx back to Long Island.
Best Hiphop-Nation Reality Check
Hot-97 Summer Jam ’99
The Million Fan March.
DMX, Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Nas with Puffy–who makes all that nursery-rhyming,
painfully obvious beat-sampling, tacky-ass hiphop go platinum? Who doesn’t
seem to notice hockey-arena sound so echoey and distorted that if it weren’t
for the video screens, it’d be impossible to tell who was onstage? Who
loves faux-dangerous, cornpone spectacle more intensely than anyone since the
Kiss Army? The Hot-97 faithful, that’s who. For anyone wondering if that
demographic was comprised mostly of the usual suspects–i.e., dopey, clean-cut
white kids who wish they were bad,–the local hip-pop radio station’s
annual Summer Jam set things straight. Held at the Continental Airlines Arena
at the end of June, Summer Jam ’99 proved that pasty-faced suburbanites
have no monopoly on dopiness–or wannabeing, for that matter.
You can’t get a sense of how youth culture has changed in the last generation
without witnessing 20,000 black kids–most of whom arrive in new Nissans,
Hondas and Volkswagens presumably provided as 17th-birthday presents by Civil-Rights-and-Feminism-era
parents–respond to repeated queries of, “Where my niggas at?”
and “Where my bitches at?” with deafening howls of delight. The music
industry is finally judging these kids by the content of their character–and
finding it as shallow and pliable as that of their overfed white counterparts.
It would have looked like an integration victory with black-community taste
the only casualty, if not for the New Jersey state troopers’ contribution
to Summer Jam ’99. During DMX’s set, a bunch of knuckleheads without
tickets rushed the gate. It was the kind of thing that happens quite often at
the Meadowlands, because the complex was built on a landfill in the middle of
nowhere. Fans who show up ticketless are fenced in the parking lot, and if they
can’t find a scalper end up bored and anxious. At the Garden or Nassau
such hard-luck kids stomp off and get some fast food–at the Meadowlands
they all fought through traffic and paid to park, so many stew until they reach
critical mass together and storm the barricades. We’ve seen this happen
at Springsteen concerts at the Meadowlands, it happened when AC/DC came and
at more than a couple of Grateful Dead shows. Only at Summer Jam ’99, though,
did hundreds of cops, some in full riot gear, show up at the Arena to “restore
order.” Rows of shields and visored helmets really lend the whole, familiar
arena-rock ritual a different sorta flavor.
Best Bad Movie Hype
AMC John Ford Marathon
The Researchers. Okay,
the worst movie hype of the year was for The Blair Witch Project, but
you knew that already. It was surprising to watch American Movie Classics’
recent John Ford movie marathon–the tv event of the year–and suffer
through the cable station’s annoying festival commercials. The most egregious
was a promo for The Searchers. Between clips of that 1956 Western (“That’ll
be the day!”) ran several paeans from such notables as Martin Scorsese
and Steven Spielberg and then, this declaration: “All modern American cinema
comes from The Searchers“–erroneously credited to Ernest Hemingway.
For all the good work that AMC did presenting rare Ford films to a new public
(and forwarding the cause of film preservation with gorgeous prints of The
Long Gray Line, The Prisoner of Shark Island and How Green Was
My Valley), this mixed-up film appreciation was vexing. Since Hemingway
checked out in 1961, the statement about American cinema wouldn’t cover
much ground. But for the record: Hemingway actually paid tribute to Mark Twain’s
Huckleberry Finn as the source of all succeeding American literature.
Sure, it’s reasonable to want movies to have the intellectual and artistic
clout of literature, but let’s get the terms right. AMC’s ads practiced
the kind of hilariously bad scholarship you usually expect from Premiere.
Besides, pinning modern movies on The Searchers only means Ford has a
lot of crap to answer for.
Best Local Comedian(s)
Them Keener Boys
Mom Likes Them Both Just Fine. “When
I hear folks a-clapping, And my toesies start a-tapping,” sings Dave Keener,
“That’s my kind of show!” He goes on like this for a while. Tom,
Dave’s brother, finds this to be baffling. He begins to talk over the music
and ask if Dave is really into that kind of stuff. Dave certainly is: “Now,
Tom, I’ve told you what kind of show I like. But you didn’t tell me
what kind of show you like.”
“That’s easy, Dave, because what I really like is a kick-ass downtown
New York City East Village performance art kind of show.”
“Never saw one,” replies innocent Dave. “What’s it like?”
“Listen and learn,” sneers Tom, as he proceeds to list all that is
not Them Keener Boys, concluding: “When nobody can sing or act or write
worth a damn/And a madwoman whose rectum is obstructed by a yam/Tells all the
white boys where they can go/Brother, that’s my kind of show!”
That’s from Them Keener Boys’ funniest bit–”That’s
My Kind of Show,” the opening track of their self-titled CD–and it
sums up what makes Them so important. Like the great ones before, Tom and Dave
blossom in the counterculture they so aggressively wish to destroy. The Smothers
Brothers’ biggest gag was the ability to outsing and outplay most of their
direly serious contemporaries. It’s certainly no stretch to imagine that
Them Keener Boys are more talented and entertaining than any musical act below
This isn’t to say that there’s anything professional about Them Keener
Boys. The brothers’ amateurish spirit will keep them exiled in downtown
for a few more years. It’s for the best. That Keener awkwardness provides
a lot of magic. Sure, it’s painful always to see them stumble through their
first few songs. They may rush through pitching the perfume made from their
pheromones (“Parfum/Keenerboy No. 5″), but it leads to a flawless
performance of lite whiteboy rap that’s marvelously catchy. Saturday
Night Live has been trying to write a decent similar parody since ’88.
Them Keeners probably got it by the third try. It’s the best dinky white
art-rap from a city that’s attempted a lot of dinky white art-rap.
Their record is crammed full of off hand, wonderful sounds and songs. Lots
of bad faux lounge acts probably wrote a bad lounge act tribute to the martini,
but only Them Keener Boys write one that begins with a tribute to the liver
of Prometheus. “Them Keener Boys Were Illin’” is a dance parody
that, of course, is more danceable than anything on Moby’s Play.
No other whiteboy downtown NYC act is so quick to hate their whiteboy downtown
privilege. “The Story Of My People,” for example, properly savages
stupid ethnic self-importance. Fratboys everywhere are rushing to wrap themselves
in their great-grandfathers’ persecuted culture. But only these very
white brothers could get away with a proud tale of their forefathers’ discovering
the Dept. of Social Services.
You’ll find the CD at their live shows, which you’ll want to attend
anyway. Not every one of their hits made the album, including their lite-funk
ode about how they’ll only make love to a woman who knows how to bake in
the morning. They usually play for free, too, which means they’ll continue
to have plenty of real-life experiences to tap for their animated epic The
Available Temping Man, which you’ll find at www.keenerboy.com.
Naturally, Them Keener Boys aren’t for everybody. You may not like genuinely
funny guys. You may be a Dave Keener in reverse, preferring empty snide remarks
to clever insight. As Dave would say, “Gee, Tom, I don’t know if I’d
like that kind of show.” And Tom blithely responds, “That’s because
you’re a racist, David.”
Best Candidate For The Emperor’s New Clothes
Award In Choreography
Choreographer John Jasperse has acquired quite a European following for his
“inventive” productions. A European following.
His most recent piece, Madison, as I Imagine It, at the Dance Theater
Workshop, is a doozy. What happens in this masterpiece? Get this: A couple of
women spin pails on the floor. Then Jasperse and a girl enter with a bucket
of pennies. Then she puts some of them in his ear and he dumps them in the bucket.
Then Jasperse wraps aluminum foil around her waist, grows bored, takes it off
and hangs it on the stage’s scrim. Then the dancers recline on the floor
and entwine their legs in that way toddlers do when you stick them together
into the same crib. Also there’s some postmodern jumping-bean-style excitement,
for your pleasure.
Meanwhile, we persist under the impression that Merce Cunningham, at the age
of 80, is producing the real stuff: material that looks more avant-garde than
ever compared to this overhyped tripe.
Best Forward-Looking New York Gallery
177 N. 9th St. (betw. Bedford & Driggs Aves.) Brooklyn, 718-599-2144
Art Space Oddity.
Long the flag-bearer of the up-and-coming Brooklyn scene, this recently expanded
art space has already “graduated” a generation of artists to many
of Manhattan’s top-flight galleries, among them Roxy Paine, Bruce Pearson
and Fred Tomaselli. Smart collectors today flock to gallery director Joe Amrhein’s
space, anxious to catch new art trends in the making, participate intimately
in New York’s most significant artists’ scene and save tens of thousands
of green ones in the process. Amrhein’s soft-spoken, direct, knowledgeable
style is in great part responsible for the success of his gallery and for the
growth of other art spaces in Williamsburg. What began as an experiment in representativeness
and inclusion with Pierogi’s “Flat Files” (a format for exhibiting
inexpensive, small-scale art pieces to curious collectors) has now become a
means for traveling the work of hundreds of artists to galleries and museums
across the U.S. and Europe. Tagged by The New York Times Magazine
as a “neo-dealer” three years ago, Amrhein has advanced beyond
this silly neologism to establish a style reminiscent of a figure now represented
in history books: gentleman Leo Castelli. An experimental art space as well
as a gallery, Pierogi 2000 cooks with new finds, shuttling off the prissy, attitudinal
guff one has come to expect from gallery-going.
Best Value for Actors and Playwrights to Cultivate
Leave Your Agent.
Stop going on auditions. Remember that one writer in school who was a real hotshot?
Those other actors you went to school with that you had a blast just blasting
through a text with? Get them together and develop a Web tv show. Because here’s
the deal: The money guys have built this amazing infrastructure on the Internet.
And they’re hurting for content. There is no precedent; right now,
for instance, the Digital Entertainment Network is developing seven-minute downloadable
shows. And they’re desperately looking for people who can make stuff.
Actors never get stuff they have any equity in–an equal stake in
the fortunes of the project they’re involved in. Here’s your chance
to change that. Anything goes out there. Fucking grab that shit and rock the
Best Live Music Series
The Garage Rock Festacular!
Sure, the miasmic essence of yesteryear wafts heavy at Cavestomp! With
all of the moptops, Beatle boots, horizontal stripes and paisleys you run into
at these events, it’s easy to believe you’ve wandered into a scene
out of Wild in the Streets.
Still, it’s no shock to see 90s alt-garage heroes like Jon Spencer kneeling
at the altar of the Seeds’ Sky Saxon. After all, what scion of garage-punk
hipdom is going to miss the chance to see Nuggets come to life before
his very eyes? No–the real surprise is just how hard the geezers give
back. Not the geezers onstage either–it’s the audience we’re
talking about. On the nights we attended Cavestomp! we witnessed more ass-shaking–more
all-out bone-scraping party joy–than at any other show in recent memory.
Oldsters were busting out, breaking their 12-step covenants. Chicks were running
around topless. Ecstatic ex-convicts who hadn’t seen a pop music show since
Johnny Cash played Folsom Prison slouched alongside the stage to heckle, drink
and eventually pass out. Not to mention that twentysomethings smart enough to
avert their sneaker-bound gazes and haul their butts up off of the Knitting
Factory floor had themselves some good, unself-conscious fun.
As is usually the case, rumors of a Sonics reunion circulated only to be topped
by actual confirmation that the Monks (that’s M-o-n-k-s, not M-o-n-k-e-e-s)
would reform after 32 years and play at Cavestomp! in November. Any series that
dusts off the relics and generates for them the acclaim they deserve from an
appreciative audience is cool. But credit Cavestomp! with taking it all a step
further and providing something that downtown music sorely lacks these days:
Best of Best-of CDs
The Wedding Present
The Honeymoon’s Not Over.
The British band The Wedding Present’s great 1990 album Bizarro
has been hard to find recently, but the obscure new label Manifesto has gathered
several of its best tracks for Singles 1989-1991, a two-CD Wedding Present
echo. David Gedge sings with gruff felicity but he also heads a band that is
consistently, remarkably powerful and melodic. And he writes good stuff: “You
grew up quicker than me/I kept so many old things/And never quite stopped hoping/I
think I know what this means/It means I ought to grow up/It means you want to
On the band’s few U.S. gigs (once at CBGB) Gedge & Co. displayed
the undying virtues of rhythm-and-speed, verse-and-chorus welded to feeling.
This collection is a testament to a band that concentrates on the intricacies
of male heartache. Gedge’s self-revealing songs are buoyed by a crowd-thrilling
fury (like Neil Young’s rowdier yet more romantic younger brother). The
band articulates what eager and wounded lovers won’t admit, always evoking
the simplicity of the basic rock ‘n’ roll combo. This retrospective
also features tracks from Tommy, George Best and Watusi.
For such emotional devotion as Gedge’s, only a small, dedicated label like
Manifesto would do. To a defensive, forgetful world, The Wedding Present is
Best Music-Industry Jeremiah
Fear of a Digi Planet. It
was with great pleasure that we watched this maverick-turned-elder return to
his rebellious roots and dismiss the music industry’s party line regarding
MP3s. The major labels had been hiding behind a vaguely leftish shield–that
free flow of music-as-information would cost American jobs and artists profits–but
Chuck called bullshit on that. Artists already make damn near no profits on
the sale of their music, he pointed out, and jobs are always lost when technological
innovations lower the costs of doing business–in boardrooms that’s
called progress. With assistance from the ever-compliant music media (a gang
of freeloading sycophants who behave as if they’d suffocate if their flow
of promotional CDs were threatened), the labels were succeeding at their systematic
demonization of MP3 until Chuck signed with Atomic Pop (dot-com) and announced
that his group, Public Enemy, was now an online presence first. If you’re
Web savvy, you can download the new Public Enemy album, There’s a Poison
Goin’ On, for free. But plenty of people are paying for it, just like
Chuck said they would. He’s right and they’re wrong. Artists can do
fine selling their own music direct to the public, and should view labels as
nothing but obsolete middlemen–at least until companies offer artists something
they haven’t been offered before.
Best Overrated Gallery Exhibitions
Rirkrit Tiravanija and Elizabeth Peyton
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise Corp.
436 W. 15th St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.)
Dull Wind Blows Hard.
Now, we all know that the art world perennially has these to spare. Still, this
year’s results turn out two particularly egregious examples of poser puff,
each one worthy of The Blowhard, the yearly (since right now) NYPress
prize dished out in mock-celebration of bad, conceited art and inflated reputations.
This year it’s a dead heat. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s recent replica of
his East Village apartment built inside Gavin Brown’s gallery ties Elizabeth
Peyton’s display of ugly little portraits of the fey-faced, purportedly
cool and nearly famous. Though Peyton gives as good as she gets in this battle
for the dull, overexploited and obvious–turning starfucking doodles of
insignificant twits like Liam Gallagher and Leonardo DiCaprio very much to her
advantage–Tiravanija edges out the competition by clearly demonstrating
the power of incessantly repeating a shallow idea to death (We happen to have
had the misfortune of attending an opening of an identical work by Tiravanija
in Barcelona; his project at the Venice Biennale, a potted tree, was also a
similarly flat-lined one-liner). Home since mid-May to dopey graduate students,
Stussy-wearing fashion interns and middle-aged art writers uncritically obsessed
with things young, Tiravanija’s “apartment”–open 24 hours
a day to anyone who wants to, you know, “veg out”–hammers home
its signature cross of pseudo-sociology and doofus Gen-X conceptualism with
deadening insistence. Tiravanija’s constructions are, pure and simple,
process art for the lifestyle-conscious 90s. Declaratively silent on every possible
formal or cultural issue, this mess of plywood and electrical wire depends solely
on the hot air provided by its silly occupants for significance. 1999, We
Have a Winner!
Best Music Magazine to Avoid
How Do You Sleep? It
was well-known before Blaze hit the streets last summer that the magazine
would sell a lot of ad space. A product of profitable, Quincy-Jones-founded
Vibe Ventures (now Vibe/Spin Ventures), the new hiphop magazine was to compete
with The Source, which after about a decade in circulation suddenly became
as thick as a small city’s phone book and started outselling Rolling
Stone off the newsstands. How many publishing conglomerates both want to
do a rap magazine and know something about the market? With its sure-thing
business plan, the publishers could have done practically anything in the space
between their scores of jiggy-wear and urban-market-movie ads. Blaze
could have explored new design possibilities and taken editorial risks. They
could have challenged readers with a hiphop magazine as unpredictable and deep
as the culture’s best music.
Part of Blaze‘s prelaunch ad campaign–an MTA-sign parody featuring
iconic symbols for each of the four elements of hiphop under the word “Please”–was
promising. How long ago that seems now, one year later, when Blaze has
established itself as the most conservative and shallow national music magazine
of all time. There is no celebrity interview too formulaic, no surface appearance
too obvious to play off as impenetrable, no Source design idea too distinguished
to bite, no cliche–be it written, photographed or illustrated–too
tired for the opportunists running Blaze. If risks and innovations are
a lot to ask, how about one feature that doesn’t start with a description
of the writer meeting the artist in some atmospheric setting and end with a
dumb summary sentence like, “Away from industry frenetics, time has paved
Erick and Parrish a more stable path,” or “Strapped with a plan for
the West, Mack is ready to bring in a blazing new dawn,” or “For Rahzel,
making music with his mouth is just natural, taking things back to its purest
essence–the beat,” or “By digging deep inside herself again and
again, Solé is on her way to becoming a great performer and an even better
woman” (all from the Sept. ’99 issue).
Special mention must be made of Blaze‘s “edgy” column,
“The Furious 5,” which is nothing but a page of snappy “Top 5″
lists (bet you’ve never seen those in a pop glossy before). The latest
issue’s edition uses this limp forum to address one of Blaze‘s
most glaringly apparent weaknesses–its absurdly cozy relationships with
the labels whose artists the magazine supposedly covers. “Top 5 Reasons
Blaze is Not Def Jam Magazine” include “We’ve sworn off
payola (hint-hint, wink-wink, nudge-nudge)” and “We’re the only
magazine with the nerve to ask Russell [label boss Simmons] if he was gay.”
Haw fuckin’ haw. We can’t wait until October, when perhaps “Furious
5″ will explain why Blaze‘s September Mobb Deep feature asserted
that the five-month delay in the release of the group’s hotly anticipated
(and, by May, heavily bootlegged) fourth album stemmed from “Loud Records’
decision…to switch distributors from BMG to Sony,” when everybody
in the goddamn industry knows that’s not what happened.
Best Manhattan Band From Brooklyn
Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six
Chinese Rock. We
first saw Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six one summer night last year at
Acme Underground when they opened for the Swinging Neckbreakers. It was perfect:
hot and humid, and we danced and pounded beers like we were nuts. The Dynasty
Six–there are only four of them, actually–ripped through song after
song of 60s-styled, Seeds-influenced garage rock like it was the last rock ‘n’
roll show ever. Jonny, Tommy and Wayne usually wear matching suits–or at
least black pants with buttondowns and ties, depending on temperature. The drummer…well,
he wears whatever he wants, and it’s usually the standard wifebeater. Because
he’s the drummer.
What Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six do is kick it, and hard. They tend
to start their sets with a Davey Allan & the Arrows song and get the crowd
stomping with goofy choruses like, “It’s simple, but it’s true–the
one I love is you!” as they thrash around, performing Townshend windmills,
rock-star jumps, kicks and lots of other gymnastic kind of stuff. Not convinced?
Look out for them: they tend to play Manitoba’s and Baby Jupiter’s
quite a bit. But make sure you stick around for the final song, “It’s
All About Me”–someone will surely get serenaded.
Best Crutch for the Touring Rock Life
Chuck the Chippie, Pass the Dutchie. You’re
gonna need something out there; you’re living on a bus, nothing
is constant except that you play a show every day, and the remaining 22 hours
are spent sitting on the bus watching movies, or–if you’re unlucky–doing
interviews. Rock journalists are basically the kids who were too lazy to get
a summer job in high school so they could buy a drum set; thus, they know absolutely
nothing about the actual work involved in making music, or the punishing routine
that a musician has to deal with if they want to actually pay the rent playing
music. That’s a pretty annoying guy to have to talk to every day.
After a short while on the road one learns to vanish when the tour manager
comes around trolling for somebody to do the phoner with the Cleveland Plain
Dealer–but the question remains: What the fuck do you do with all that
time? Unfortunately, there’re only so many times one can watch Tommy
Boy in the back lounge. The restless musician must turn to one of two things:
girls or substances.
Girls are bad news. For several reasons. For one thing, if you’re somebody
nobody wants to fuck and then suddenly you’re in a band and everybody wants
to fuck you, it occurs to you that them wanting to fuck you has absolutely nothing
to do with you. Kind of a rough realization, particularly when you realize you
can sympathize with gorgeous models who whine about nobody wanting to get to
know the real them. Scary. Also, all bands that dog around end up getting heavily
competitive with one another–if you’re living on a bus with a bunch
of fellas for months at a time, you’re going to have irrational dislikes
of them anyway; you really don’t need cock-swinging antler-butting alpha
male shit to ice that particular cake. (Note: We’ve seen a number of bands
that have given up the drugs entirely and, naturally, turned to women as a substitute
crutch; those bands are the scariest, most aggressive, point-scoring-est ruthless
environments you ever saw.)
And perhaps the scariest reason–after a while you cease to give a fuck
about women. Lord knows playing the same songs day after day puts you in serious
danger of ceasing to give a fuck about music; ceasing to give a fuck
about sex additionally is some scary psychological terrain.
But wait, the sensitive reader asks, what about creative endeavors? Can’t
that sustain you on the road? Well, perhaps–but if your creative focus
happens to be playing music, that’s pretty fucking difficult to get into
over the roar of a bus engine. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve got a
creative outlet that can be indulged despite the bus noise–like, say, oh
we don’t know, maybe a newspaper column or something. Or videogames.
But basically your best bet is the drugs. For one thing, they can make the
movies in the back lounge seem better than they are. For another thing, it’s
an activity you can share with your bandmates; if everybody’s jonesing,
you can all go ferret out the drugs as a group activity; if somebody’s
out of drugs, bandmates will generally share. We recommend pot over narcotics
and narcotics over liquor. Stay away from the cocaine: Waking up with a hangover
on the bus and throwing up in the Days Inn parking lot still beats staying up
all night sweating out that ugly fucking drug, wide awake, staring out the window
as the sun comes up over the aforementioned motel. Narcotics are great fun,
but you have to make sure you’re hiring roadies on the lower end of the
pay scale–a guitar tech who makes two thousand bucks a week gets that wage
not because he can tune guitars any better than the cheaper guys, it just means
he can find pretty durn good powder in, like, Duluth, or Tulsa. Which means
that it’s 10 times more available, 10 times less special, and you’ve
got a li’l habit going on. As for the weed–thanks to the miracle of
modern hydroponics, the quality is most excellent on a nationwide basis–although
there’s always that three-day stretch from like Baton Rouge, then a day
off by a strip mall in South Carolina, then Myrtle Beach, where the only weed
you can get is like hay spraypainted green and suddenly the bass player is in
a foul mood and everyone is at one another’s throats over an argument about
whether to eat at Waffle House or Cracker Barrel. But that’s relatively
rare. Happy touring!
Best Hitchcock Centennial Celebrations
Hitchcock’s Notebooks, by
Give ‘Em Enough Rope.
Three of the many stood out: The Museum of Modern Art’s now-closed gallery
exhibition of Hitchcock memorabilia–interoffice memos, personal letters
(including Grace Kelly’s schoolgirl script turning down the lead in Marnie),
film clips and a prop stuffed bird–was like an unforgettable evening in
Next, Dan Auiler’s compilation Hitchcock’s Notebooks
(Spike Books/Avon) was like a souvenir of what MOMA offered plus more: script
reprints, storyboards and behind-the-story details, intrigues and insights.
The best way to recapture a sense of the maestro’s importance is on a spectacular,
little-known website, DVDExpress.com. The feature “100 Years of Hitch”
lights up the Net. Starting with an ambitious, impressive assessment of what
Hitchcock meant to world cinema, Gregory Solman, a thoughtful and original critic,
compiled a list of Hitchcock-inspired features available in the newest home-viewing
format. But this site shines because the list extends over many genres and to
well-known and obscure titles (from The Shanghai Gesture to Confidentially
Yours). Solman argues for Hitchcock’s breadth as well as his artistry.
In a surprising way, this list also resembles a retrospective of the most interesting
films made this century. Solman’s critical acumen results in clever, knowledgeable
synopses that read like the most exciting course syllabus imaginable. Smart
cinema profs should have started their cribbing here.
Best Movie Theater Innovation
DIY “Butter” Pumps
If you’re going to eat it, you might as well eat a lot of it, and no matter
how much you beg, the concessionaires at movie theaters never put enough of
that “butter” (we know a theater that used something called “Golden-Spra”)
on your popcorn. The rolled eyes and audible sighs that are the response to
“Would you put some of that yellow stuff halfway in?” have almost
made us quit asking.
The United Artists Union Square Theaters have finally caught on. They now offer
do-it-yourself “butter” pumps, right by the napkins and condiment
island, with an upstairs outpost, too. We can spray our corn to our heart’s
content, even running out to reload, should we find that necessary.
Best Place to Play Sit-Down Ms. Pac-Man
Welcome to the Johnsons’
123 Rivington St. (betw. Essex & Norfolk Sts.)
Ghosts in the Machine. Locals
and hipsters patronize this Lower East Side bar for the great happy hour specials,
the three-dollar Guinness pints and the appealingly slack, relaxed down-home
All that stuff’s fine with us. But what keeps us hanging out here until
the wee hours is that goddamn Ms. Pac-Man. Fuck Pokemon. Atari’s where
it’s at–and no other arcade games stand the test of time like the
Pac-Man games do. So you’ll find us at the Johnsons’ boozed up and
huddled over the table, shivering with adrenaline and swearing under our breath
as that silly round-ass creature whips its way around the maze. Don’t wait
on us, though. We’re good at this, and we’ll leave the game
table–our eyes glazed, our joystick hand cramped–and stagger to the
bar for a restorative shot and beer when we’re good and ready.
Why doesn’t the Lakeside, which provides a sit-down Pac-Man, win this
honor? Good question. Listen carefully and we’ll tell you. Play doubles
on that machine and two Pac-Men appear at once, which makes it somewhat
confusing when you’re drunk or stoned. So stick with the Johnsons’.
Best Place to Take Your Sugar Daddy
266 Elizabeth St. (betw. Houston & Prince Sts.)
Baby’s Got a Brand New Bag. When
Sugar Daddy said he wanted to treat us to “a night on the town,” we
knew precisely where to go. Dinner and a show is nice, but diamonds–or
in this case handbags–are a girl’s best friend. After all, that black,
square, PVC shoulder bag we were hauling around–purchased on sale at the
Gap way back when a cultivated irony was something we still aspired to–wasn’t
working anymore. Irony’s passe. And besides, we’re grown-up.
Blue Bag had just what we were after–a nice, handmade Italian piece by
Alchimia. It’s big enough to be practical, small enough to be feminine
and can be worn with either a black or a brown ensemble (we’re looking
out for Sugar Daddy, too). Prices run between $60 and $400; there’s merchandise
from France, Italy, New York and even Guatemala (the stuff to buy when you’re
looking to give Sugar Daddy the impression you’re politically conscious).
We’re also determined to score the beaded handbag and wallet set with the
cat-eye design, by Mystic. That combo goes for $475.
Forget Rialto and Sweet & Vicious–you want to have some fun in this
neighborhood, stop by Blue Bag, and make sure you check out the store’s
nylon totes and cute French owner, in case Sugar Daddy jets.
Best Expression of Bafflement
“Who the fuck
The Last Word in Confusion. Back
in the proverbial day, a friend was 17 and an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart
in Pensacola, FL. He was a dedicated young proto-grunger, and the upper echelons
soon noticed his extensive collection of t-shirts bearing names of bands that
no taxpaying adult could possibly have the brain space for. Of course, they
interpreted this as expertise, and put the poor guy in charge of the music department,
where he had to actually pay attention to how many people bought Michael Bolton
records, and then call whomever one calls up to get more Michael Bolton records
and say, “I’d like a shitload more of them Michael Bolton records,
please.” He tells us the thing that really broke his spirit was when he
ordered up a single Hüsker Dü CD and set it up in the racks with a
nice little “Hüsker Dü” place card and everything, and month
in and month out Flip Your Wig just sat there, the loneliest compact
disc in the whole entire world.
Being an assistant manager meant he supervised a single employee, an older
black gentleman who apparently used to depress our friend by dreaming aloud
of one day being transferred to the lawn furniture department. So one day this
big box of new releases comes in, and the older black gentleman slices the packing
tape off with a boxcutter, and picks up the CD that happened to be on top of
the stack. That CD happened to be Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese. And
the older black gentleman exclaimed, emphatically, and with great wonderment
in his voice: “Who the fuck is Ween?”
We found this hilarious at the time, and it stuck in our head. It rattled around
in there so much that after a while we couldn’t help but let it out. One
evening our girlfriend was in one of those girl moods that hang so heavy in
the air it becomes difficult to breathe. We were sitting in a cab–heading
to some party where she was going to be in a foul mood but act all syrupy nice
to people and vent her foul moodiness to us whenever nobody was looking–and
when we were stopped at a light, we just randomly broke the silence. “Who
the fuck is Ween?” It sure didn’t help matters, but
man did it feel good to say.
And in the ensuing months the phrase has proved peculiarly useful. Perusing
a menu entirely in Portuguese: “Who the fuck is Ween?” Being unable
to locate one’s location on a map, being stymied by the assembly instructions
for a mechanical something or other, or a train schedule, or the location of
the cereal aisle in a superm