Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Akron Art Museum

Great job, Akron Art Museum folks!

I had the pleasure of visiting the museum for the first time and it is truly wonderful. Highlights:

1. The building itself is fantastic. So much cooler now that it's completed than I thought it would be when it was being built. More specifically, the wing over the old museum looked like a mistake at first, but it makes sense now.

2. Rene Magritte. My favorite artist and my hometown museum has a piece of his. Wow. I was pretty thrilled to find the painting there but was admittedly disappointed that none of the museum literature touts this piece. I'm not the only Magritte fan, am I? This is, of course, not meant to disparage the wonderful work of the museum or to downplay the rest of the collection, but I would have thought that having a Magritte in house would be a bigger deal than it is.

(Obviously I'm reading too much into this, but I'm sensitive and defensive regards Magritte after a shocking number of people, artists even, look at me blankly and say, "Who?" when Magritte comes up.)

3. The keychain. We signed on for a family membership and apparently the good folks at the art museum know how to get to me. I love trinkets and so forth. Miniatures. Especially free ones. Mary even gave me hers. She's the best.

4. Warhol. I like Warhol more because I'm a big VU fan, but still...

5. Can't recall the name, but the series of photographs of "Tiny" is stunning and heartbreaking but somehow...something in there gives me hope for some reason. I don't know. Walking along the display, though, I cycled through so many emotions. Every emotion, actually.

6. Staff. Everyone was so cool and nice. My little guy was being pretty vocal and rather than glaring or shushing, the docents came by and talked to him. Very cool.

That's about all I've got for now. I'm so proud of Akron, though, for making this happen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More Than Meets the Eye

For some reason, I'm going to write about Transformers, one of this summer's "tentpole" movies. First, though, a little about me.

For anyone who might read this that doesn't know me personally, I am a bit of a pop-culture, um, follower. Maybe that's not the right word. I'm not ashamed to read Entertainment Weekly. Maybe I should be, but I'm not. I do quite well shouting answers along to VH1's "World Series of Pop Culture." What I mean is, even though I don't have the time (and really, thank God I don't) to see every movie that comes out or listen to every Grammy-nominated album (or even watch the Grammys), I tend to have a rough idea of what's going on in America's great cultural offal. As such, I have a passing interest in some of the bigger movies of the summer. For example, I'll want to see Spiderman 3. I probably won't see it, but I'd like to.

Which brings us to Transformers. I don't want to see it. Not even 10 minutes of it. Not for the effects, not for anything. I'm completely numb to the trailers. I've read a few reviews and some articles (like the one in EW, and the one in Wired), but not because I'm excited to see the movie, more because I'm curious why it's such an event. If I were smarter, I could claim that it's anthropological curiosity.

I was 10 or 11 when the toys came out. Fifth or sixth grade. Which means that I'd given up action figures more or less by then. I boxed up my GI Joes and so on in 5th grade (I remember this really clearly) and gave them to the son of a lady my mom worked with. So, when the toys came out I didn't play with them. I think it was probably 6th grade when they started to get more popular and then maybe that same year when the TV show came out, but I just never got into it.

Bear in mind, I still watched cartoons. "Thundercats" and "Dungeons and Dragons" and so forth. The idea of robots turning into cars always struck me as lame. Well, really, it's because the robo-cars are from another planet really that's lame. To me, if the robots were just manufactured on Earth and piloted like military craft, it wouldn't have been so lame. But sentient robots from another planet who turn into Earth cars, many of which are American makes? Weak.

I didn't get it then why this weak-ass premise would be so popular. I don't get it now, either. It pushes my suspension of disbelief to its limit.

Like, okay, you've got these alien robots. This alone is okay.

Alien robots that are sentient. Again, I'll follow you there. I've read a decent amount of Sci-Fi (more Sci-Fantasy, than hard Sci-Fi), so I'm good so far.

Sentient alien robots who can turn into vehicles. Still okay. Sounds like a nifty idea. Who built them? Why are they here? I'm willing to follow the story to find out.

Sentient alien robots who turn into the same vehicles we have on Earth.

Wait. Hold up, man.

Why do they turn into Earth cars? I don't get it. What purpose would this have served on their home world? Were they designed by aliens who want to infiltrate Earth and take it over? Kind of. Maybe. If that's the case, I can work with it. Earth under attack from alien forces is a classic sci-fi storyline. I'm with you.

But wait. There are two factions of robots. There are bad robots and good robots and they all turn into Earth cars. This is bullshit. I give up.

See, I'm pretty open minded. To blindly swallow American culture requires a paralyzed gag-reflex and a fairly open mind. I'm there, but this Transformers thing is too much.

Look at this thing:

Really, it's a pretty stupid looking robot and a pretty stupid looking truck. Fold in a backstory that has an 11 year old calling "Shenanigans" and the whole thing just blows.

So that's why I'm so mystified that this thing got greenlit and a gimongous budget and all the rest. Not only that, people are going nuts for it. I feel like such a foreigner when there's a big American cultural event in which I can't muster even a passing interest.

To relate this to something of a bit more substance, I'll just mention that it bothers me because it fails to follow a pretty basic rule of storytelling. Things can happen in stories that don't happen in real life. This is especially important in some of the genre fiction, such as horror, sci-fi, or fantasy. So while things can happen in a fictional world that might not happen in OUR world, these events or creatures or sentient robots have to at least make sense in THEIR world. When there's a disconnect, an event or a character that spills outside of logic in too many directions, the reader or the 11 year old kid or the 34 year old pop-culture "scholar" (HA!), gets jolted right out of the story. Tolkein took me to Middle Earth. If, though, Gandalf had rolled up to Bilbo's house in a tricked-out Mitsubishi Eclipse, I would have lost touch with Tolkein's world. And the more that happens between writer and reader, the harder it becomes for the reader to get back into the writer's world.

Thanks, you've been a great audience.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Happy (belated) Birthday, Ok Computer!

Wow, OK Computer. You're 10 years old. Double digits. I remember the first time I saw you at the Meijer in Champaign, Illinois. I bought you that day, having seen the cool animated video of "Paranoid Android" on MTV and also having heard some of the buzz surrounding your release. I listened to you once and put you away, silly me. A month went by and I heard "Let Down" on the radio one day. I rushed home and rescued you from the pile of cds on my desk. Put you into the player for another spin and this time, you grabbed me. Three months went by before you came back out of the cd player. Three months and probably 300 listens. And the only reason you came out then was so that I could lend you to my buddy Henson. I had to by an additional copy because he kept forgetting to give you back to me.

Ok. Enough of that. Seriously, though. OK Computer is 10 years old. Man, where does the time go? The previous paragraph kinda tells the story of how I discovered the album. I still listen to it regularly and what I thought when I really listened to it for the first time still holds true -- "Holy shit," I thought. "This is the best album I've heard since...since I don't know when."

You Frank-o-philes may remember that on my list of Favorite 5 Albums of All Time, OK Computer was not Number 1. Since I lost all of my old posts in the redesign, I'll provide the list sans wordy explanations:

1. Revolver by The Beatles
2. Deconstruction by Deconstruction
3. OK Computer by Radiohead
4. Gentlemen by Afghan Whigs
5. Angel Dust by Faith No More

Actually, I just re-wrote history there. Originally, I had 1 and 2 switched and I think I left FNM out of the list. They deserved to be up there though. Angel Dust meant a lot to me.

Anyway, Deconstruction came out in 1995 and OK Computer in 1997. Still, to me, OK Computer remains the best album since probably Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). What's this, you say? Sgt. Pepper's... isn't on the list? Well, it's not my favorite Beatles album, but it's probably their best from an overall standpoint.

Long story short, OK Computer is a phenomenal album. Life-altering, provided you're the type whose life can be altered by listening to music. Start to finish, its vision is clear and relevant. Each song builds on the last until at the end, the only place left to go is back to the start. Of course, this makes sense because the story is cyclical -- it begins with a car crash ("Airbag") and ends/begins again with a dangerous car ride ("Hey, man! Slow down! Idiot, slow down!" from "The Tourist").

For the sake of going on and on, here are some notes on each song:

1. "Airbag" Listen to it with headphones on. The opening guitar riff is doubled in one of the channels with a cello. Awesome. Also, dig the in-the-pocket bass line. Great stuff.

2. "Paranoid Android" Check out the bass drum line from the very start of the song. It foreshadows the rhythm of the noiser, uptempo riff that begins with the "You don't remember, you don't remember, why don't you remember my name..." verse. And when the song melts into the "Rain down..." finish, it's soft and cozy like a pillow. But kinda creepy.

3. "Subterranean Homesick Alien" It's great how busy the melodies are in this song. Descending during the verses and climbing during the refrains. Really intricate.

4. "Exit Music (For a Film)" Two things: 1 - this was actually the music over the end credits of the not very good, but not very bad movie "Angus." 2 - When the fuzz bass comes in this song goes from pretty cool to otherworldly.

5. "Let Down" Hands down, one of the best songs ever. Beautiful and melancholy, but reaching for hopefulness in the final section. Also, check out the vocals in that last part. There's a wordless melody Thom Yorke sings out of the line "...floor collapsing, floating/bouncing back and one day" as one ov the vocal tracks continues the lyric. His voice climbs and slides like a violin. It's stunning.

6. "Karma Police" Nice enough song. One thing that's interesting is that it borrows the downward progression from America's "Lonely People."

7. "Fitter Happier" You either like this song or hate it.

8. "Electioneering" A nice straight-ahead rocker. Cool riff.

9. "Climbing Up the Walls" So creepy. The strangled vocals are startling.

10. "No Surprises" Like a lullabye. In fact, the rendition of this song on the "Rockabye Baby!" Radiohead disc sounds almost exactly like the original. Calming.

11. "Lucky" The crying guitar line beneath the refrain couldn't be more perfect for the song. Incidentally, this is a recurring theme of the album --> every musical decision is a perfect fit song by song for the length of the album.

12. "The Tourist" As I said earlier, this is where it comes full circle. It's hard to hear this song and not start the album back at the beginning.

As I was writing that list it dawned on me that one of the best things I could say about the album, and one of the reasons I feel it's so great, is that it is really meant to be listened to as a complete work. How many albums is this true of anymore?

Frank out.