Thursday, June 20, 2013

Something in The Water: A Saint Louis Rockumentary
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


Something In The Water: A Saint Louis Rockumentary


Summary:
Something in the Water: A Saint Louis Rockumentary takes a look at the electrifying classic rock scene in St. Louis in the late 1960s and 70s. From a unique St. Louis sound, to the origins of album-oriented rock radio, to R & B influenced musicians, to stadium concerts and festivals, Something in the Water examines a unique time in St. Louis history. Told entirely through interviews and rare archival footage and photos, Something in the Water is a fun look at the region's musical subculture, told in a style as free form as rock itself.

Review:
The contribution of Saint Louis to Rock and Roll is discussed in the documentary, Something in the Water. It features interviews with band members from Head East (adopted St. Louis band), Pavlov’s Dog, Mama’s Pride (who were readying for a world tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd the day before their airplane crash), and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils; former DJs from KSHE radio also discuss the importance of St. Louis radio on the evolution of rock and roll nationally. It also shows how stadium shows, such as the Mississippi River Festival, started in St. Louis long before big shows like the California Jam played. Irv Zuckerman promoted bands for big concerts. St. Louis's own Bob Heil wrote the book on sound. Quite a case is made for the influence of Saint Louis as the mecca for rock and roll's evolution. 

"Something in the water", the saying, denotes a reason for the success of a group of people from a certain region. Man, those Aussies sure put out some fine writers; must be something in the water. Get it? Good. Let's continue.

Steve Scorfina sums it up best, “St. Louis is ground zero for rock and roll.” 

Let's sse what he means by this.

St. Louis Radio is discussed as the tool for rock and roll's successful growth. Because many stations limited their songs to 3 and a half minutes, many of the indie bands never were played. When they were played, they only reached regional fame, but missed national success. FM radio began to play longer songs and more indie stuff, but the stability of the bands prevented them from more play. Once a band was recognized, if there wasn’t a follow-up record to play, the band’s success was temporary. But it’s a catch-22: without consistent play, how could the band afford a second lp. Very few bands found their way out of this vicious circle. KSHE radio helped break the Catch-22 by taking on AM radio.


KSHE Radio Logo

AM played top 40 hits. FM played requests and DJ favorites. FM discovered the art in rock and roll; even as AM hit leaders like the Beatles began to put out songs like I am the Walrus, which wasn’t played on AM, FM picked up these new radical songs. Whereas AM played Immigrant Song by Led Zep, FM played Since I’ve Been Loving You. 

When the tide turned and FM began to dominate and control the market, New Wave and Punk were the songs of choice. Prog Rock was ignored, called Dinosaur Rock by the new wave of 80s djs. So bands from the 70s, who never made it as AM hit makers, never gained the recognition on the new powerhouse FM radio. Many of the seventies bands still had the look of the hippies, so they were ignored in light of the new wave suits or punk leather and body piercing. Such bands as Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, REO Speedwagon, got KSHE play, so St Louis helped shape much of the new prog rock scene, playing bands like the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Head East, Mama's Pride, and Pavlov's Dog.


Mississippi River Festival



But it wasn't only radio that helped shape the growth of rock and roll in Saint Louis. The city was the first to host a stadium sized concert, setting the stage for other states to follow suit. The Mississippi River Festival hosted some of Rock's biggest bands: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, ELP, YES, and up and coming bands like the J. Geils Band, the Eagles, and the James Gang.

My favorite contribution featured in the documentary, aside from Steve Scorfina's interviews where he expands on questions he addressed in my interview with him, was the story of Bob Heil. 


Bob Heil

Bob Heil created the "big" sound for bands such as The Who and the Grateful Dead, and others. He is the only sound technician to be invited to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He created the Quadraphonic sound for The Who's Quadrophenia tour. Thus the rock and roll "big sound" is attributed to St. Louis's own Bob Heil.

There are many more stories that support Scorfina's claim that Saint Louis is ground zero for Rock and Roll. When one thinks of the origins of “Rock”, one conjures images of San Francisco (Acid Rock), Seattle (Grunge), Los Angeles (the Doors), New York (Glam Rock). This documentary supports Steve's claim with substance and fascinating stories, interviews and plenty of archival footage. Indeed, when one discusses Rock and Roll from now on, the city of Saint Louis must be mentioned in all earnest and respect. 

See the documentary here:


Sunday, June 16, 2013

MOOCH
Stations of the Sun (2013)


Available soon.

Reviewed by Anthony Servante



Biography:

Since arriving on the British underground scene in 1992 Mooch have made twenty two albums covering a wide musical range, from ambient to electronic to rock to psychedelic via all stations in between.This summer solstice sees the release of an album long in the making – eleven songs covering the pagan wheel of the year: eight festivals (two solstices, two equinoxes and four Celtic cross-festivals), plus two songs forthe Oak King and Holly King who symbolically battle every solstice, and a final song covering the whole year. Featuring new recruit Beck Sian (a cousin of Kate Bush blessed with a similarly wondrous voice) the new album covers ‘seventies folk/rock/progressive territory in the style of bands such as Renaissance. A second newcomer Shelagh Teahan sings some of the songs. As ever all the music was written by Steve and recorded at his Studio-by-the-Stream in ShropshireUK.


Back

Lyrics


Overview:

Once the music of the 1600s threw off the shackles of Medieval music’s rigid form, Renaissance music was free to explore melodies with more emotionally human themes (not so religious as the Medievals) in addition to experiment with harmonies not reliant on choirs and chorales. The sound went from Gregorian chants to troubadour ballets, from monophonic to polyphonic.

Monophonic music makes every part of the song equal as everyone sings the same thing. With polyphonic, the parts expand in importance as they harmonize with the other parts, making the whole group of parts important to each other.


The difference between mono and poly music.


As the music became more layered, the themes also changed; love of god changed to love of man and woman. Thus the music rhythm reflected the cadence of the love story, seduction or declarations of affection. But Renaissance music still kept its spiritual leanings even as the themes evolved. After all, earthly love was a gift from God, the flip side of the coin, so to speak. So it wasn't uncommon to have songs of the seasons reflecting Springtime for love, for nature was the clothing of God. As more themes were added, more voices enriched the quality of the music. Harmony in music echoed the harmony of man and woman in nature.

Before discussing the sound of Mooch and its polyphonic styling, let's listen to some of today's Post-Renaissance music. “An enormous diversity of musical styles and genres flourished during the Renaissance, and can be heard on commercial recordings in the 21st century, including masses, motets, madrigals, chansons, accompanied songs, instrumental dances, and many others” (Wiki). 

Steeleye Span plays traditional Renaissance music with electric instruments. The focus for them is the storyline of each song. Note, however, the use of harmony to accentuate the tale of King Henry.


King Henry by Steeleye Span


The band Renaissance explores more instrumentalism in addition to the harmonies in the telling of its tale. Annie Haslam brings her operatic vocals to rival the orchestral movements here in Opening Out.


Opening Out by Renaissance, featuring Annie Haslam


Then we have Blackmore's Night. When Richie Blackmore, formerly of Deep Purple and Rainbow, fell in love with Renaissance music vocalist Candice Night, he revealed that at heart he, too, held a fondness for the music of the 1600s England. Updating its sound with electric instruments and orchestrations, the elements brought to the genre by Steeleye Span and Renaissance with Haslam, Blackmore keeps the proceedings simple and melodic in the song Under a Violet Moon. It's almost an exaggeration of traditional, but an honest one.


Under a Violet Moon by Blackmore's Night


Which brings us to Mooch. A note on the band’s name – in Britain ‘to mooch’ means to enjoy quiet or relaxed time, usually not doing very much…


Review:

Steve Palmer fronts the band Mooch. He writes the music and pulls the talent together to capture the sound for each release. In Stations of the Sun (2013) Steve captures the Renaissance stylings of polyphonic music. We have the lush harmonies, simple instrumentation, and spiritual leanings. He forgoes the modernization and bloated orchestrations of his idol Renaissance, and is closer to Gregorian than Blackmore's Night, most of the time, but comes close to Night on the less spiritual songs, like Come-A-Maying, which is virtually all celebratory. 

Although Mooch feels joyous, it is not for celebration but mainly for spiritual meditations. Note the titles of the songlist: The Yule Garden, The Holly King and the Oak King, Imbolic Chant, Equinox, Come-A-Maying, Summerland, The Oak King and the Holly King, Fred Barleycorn, Looking Inward, A Samhain Mask, & Wheel of the Year. The seasons play an important role in these songs. But it is the melody that will capture the listeners. When I first heard The Yule Garden, I had to hear it one more time before I heard the rest of the list. By the time I got to The Holly King and the Oak King, I had listened to The Yule Garden at least a dozen times. And with each song, the haunting melodies and somber spirit of the cadence creates a styling at once Renaissancian and Modern, a mix of the three aforementioned bands, but uniquely all its own. One can't help to listen to each song more than once or twice or more.

A sample track:


This is not just a tribute to Renaissance music; it is the new, post Renaissance. Here there is mist and cloud and morning along crooked streets with minstrels playing and lovers heading to church. Here are beautiful harmonies that transport you to begone ages. Steve Palmer aimed high and hit his target. In Stations of the Sun, his band Mooch has captured its inspiration and made it something new for the listener. We do not go to the Renaissance Faire; via this fine music, the Renaissance comes to us. 


Stations of the Sun by Mooch: A Sampling

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Purge (2013)
Starring Ethan Hawke (Assault on Precinct 13), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones).
Written and directed by James DelMonaco (Assault on Precinct 13, The Negotiator).
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


USA poster


European poster (note release date)


Summary: (Note this is the Rotten Tomatoes synopsis includes "an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons", which is never mentioned in the movie. Press kit, perhaps?).
If on one night every year, you could commit any crime without facing consequences, what would you do? In The Purge, a speculative thriller that follows one family over the course of a single night, four people will be tested to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home. In an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity-includingmurder-becomes legal. The police can't be called. Hospitals suspend help. It's one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking. When an intruder breaks into James Sandin's (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide. Directed by James DeMonaco (writer of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Negotiator), The Purge is produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister), Platinum Dunes' partners Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form (The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), as well as S├ębastien Kurt Lemercier (Assault on Precinct 13).(c) Universal

Review:
Metonymy. I mention this word often in my reviews and articles. It means the small represents the whole. For instance, we know that the first time we saw The Simpsons, we noticed that Bart called his father Homer, not Dad or Pa, but by his first name. What can we gather from this without watching any more of the episode? Well, we know that the boy has little respect for the older man; we know that the father allows it, so it’s been going on a while. We know the boy is used to having his way; we know the father doesn’t care one way or the other if the boy has his way. Everything we surmise from this small use of the word “Homer” is called metonymy. The Purge is a fine example of the literary term.

Let’s see how.

What we hear and what we know but don’t see.
  • The Religious Left has taken over the USA. Possibly in the 2020 election, as the movie takes place in 2022. Every other word spoken on the television is “God” this and “God” that.
  • The homeless problem has not gone away even though the statistics boast a one-percent unemployment rate and a booming economy. If anything, the homeless probably stand out more. We can also note that the homeless man being chased by the “purgers” is wearing dog tags, so he must be ex-military. War has either ended or continues, but the veterans are still getting shafted by the government.
  • Poor people (and the homeless) are the targets of the purgers. The term “cleansing” is a synonym for the purge, thus implying that certain types of undesirables are being removed from society on the day of The Purge. With the removal of social programs, the poor would be more visible in an economically strong community (house in disrepair, unmowed lawns, etc), thus making them viable targets for a cleansing.
  • The majority of the USA is happy with The Purge. It works. The removal of these bad elements is placed in the hands of the people, out of the government’s social services. Crime stats are low because potential robbers, thieves, and other criminals who survive poverty by such means, are being eradicated once a year, like a Spring cleaning.
  • There is still a class system as Level 10 citizens are off-limits to the purgers. I guess levels one through nine are open season then. We never learn any more of this “level” system, but we know the Level 10 are no doubt responsible for the annual purging and its marketing, which we see a lot of on the TV.  

Onto the movie now.

The Sandin family consists of father James, mother Mary, daughter Zoey, son Charlie, a perfect nuclear group save for a shaggy dog. They are rich. Even the wealthy neighbors comment on how rich they are. James installs security systems, and he sells quite a few; why, he’s even getting a bonus for selling the most at his job. Though no one says it, he is a profiteer, a carpetbagger, per se, since he’s not a purge participant nor does he speak of “God” the way the others throughout the movie do. Everything is hunky-dory for the Sandins who plan to skip the Purge again this year by turtling themselves into their armored walls securing their home and catching the whole 12 hours of fun on TV; they also plan to catch a movie on video too (Disney, I bet).


Normal nuclear couple: James and Mary Sandin


A corrupt version of the nuclear couple


Then the seams of Sandin perfection start to show. Teenager Zoey has an older boyfriend whom she doesn't want her father to find out about; Charlie wonders why his parents don’t participate in the cleansing. Then there’s the matter of the homeless veteran that Charlie lets into the house after the Purge has started. The religious lefties outside want their homeless prey back, and they have the means to crack open that armored turtle shell. And the Straw Dogs massacre begins.


Yuppie college kids out for a purge


I must point out that I have left out a number of potential “spoilers” because they are so crucial to the plot turns that only seem cut and dried, but believe me, the metonymy of this movie foreshadows much of the twists and surprises. The Sandin household is a microcosm of the new Leftist macrocosm. This movie is not horror. It is suspense. But the metonymic overtures are all horror. Throughout the movie, on the TV, there are reports of gruesome killings (purges) all over the USA (Dallas, Texas is number one in kills, for instance--get it? It's a joke). Remember The Cabin in the Woods (2012) where we hear about all the killings all over the world via TV, but only witness the one cabin where our heroes are. Again, a microcosm of the macro. (As a matter of fact, CITW would be a great double-feature for The Purge!).


Cabin in the Woods as bureaucracy 


I really looked forward to this movie. Overall, it delivered the goods, and although I discuss metonymy and its importance, I wished director DeManaco had shown a bit more of the new government (see: Hunger Games). The Purge is more than a “horror” movie, as it is being marketed (all the trailers were for horror films); it is a political statement from the 99%ers. But with a twist, which I cannot reveal here. That would spoil all the fun of the ending. So, if you want gruesome deaths and vicious murders, this might not be your cup of tea, as they say, but you might enjoy it as a rental when it comes out. For those who like a bit of political savvy behind their horror flicks, this might work for you. Might not. It worked for me. I feel cleansed.



Afterthought: A third of the audience was so mesmerized by the ending that they remained behind even as the theater staff cleaned out the popcorn bags and soda cups. We gathered in the first three rows and actually discussed the movie. This went on until the next group of movie-goers shooed us away. I haven’t seen this happen at a movie in a long time. I first saw it happen at a midnight screening for the first showing of Eraserhead by David Lynch. Hope The Purge finds its audience. The showing I attended was about 3/4 full. The group that shooed us was bigger. Hope they aren't expecting a horror movie. There’s lots more there than just killings to appreciate.

Note: The Purge pulled in $14 million bucks on Friday alone, $30 million overall, and it's only Saturday. AFTER EARTH, you paying attention? 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

To Sleep Gently By Trent Zelazny

Reviewed by Anthony Servante



To purchase, click here


Book summary:
When career criminal Jack Dempster gets caught and put away for five years in prison, he finds time to seriously reconsider his chosen line of work. Before he can make any serious decision, some old acquaintances track him down with a proposal. They want him to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. With the help of an inside man, he's to lead a small group of professionals on a daring robbery of the El Dorado Hotel, one of the finest and most secure establishments in the Southwest.

Double-crosses, love triangles, and immersion in his own self-destructive past conspire to lead him to ruin. It's not easy to sleep when searching for normalcy in the heart of a brutal past. 


Trent Zelazny

Author biography:
Trent Zelazny is the Nightmare Award-winning author of To Sleep Gently. He is also an international playwright, as well as the editor of the anthologies Mirages: Tales From Authors of the Macabre, and Dames, Booze, Guns & Gumshoes. He was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has lived in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Florida. He currently resides back in Santa Fe. He is the son of the late science fiction author Roger Zelazny. He has a son named Corwin.

Review:
Sit back, turn to page one of To Sleep Gently, and watch the world around you turn to black and white. The Crime Noir has begun, and the modern master of the genre has taken you back to the olden days of the Noir novel, where big time robberies, bad guys in nice suits, femme fatales in sexy dress, and a hero torn between going straight, a law-abiding Joe, or hitting it big with One-More-Heist. Welcome to Trent’s world. Pour yourself a bourbon on ice, light up a Camel filterless cigarette, and pull up an ashtray.

Our hero is Jack Dempster, fresh out of prison after five years. Sounds like he spent more time in the library than in the yard brawls, so he has GED on his mind, get back to school, go Ossie and Harriet, Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver all in one fell swoop. But his ex-prison mates have other ideas. There’s this hotel, see? Lots of cash. Ours for the taking. Now doesn’t that sound better than an education? Apparently it does as Jack takes the job.


Santa Fe Noir: Trentville


Trent brings the Noir form to the modern age in his beloved Santa Fe, New Mexico, casting shadows where writers such as David Goodis, Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark, and Lawrence Block, W.R. Burnett, Horace McCoy, Day Keene, and Cornell Woolrich have left their mark (sited from Trent's interview at: http://captaincurt81.livejournal.com/22017.html)What Roger Zelazny is to Science Fiction, Trent Zelazny is to Noir. Not only does he love the genre, he has re-invented it and made it his own. He’s gone way beyond classic Noir writers Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane and studied the work of the original Noir writers many of us fans have overlooked. He could teach a class in Noir if he chose to, and I'd be the first to sign up.


Trent's idol and muse: David Goodis

Note the Noir cover art.


And Trent’s studied his subjects well. He’s captured the look, the themes, and the characterizations common to early Noir and melds them with his own Noir novels. To Sleep Gently is his early attempt to recreate the tone and texture of the forties and fifties writings. He has since evolved his style in works such as “Shadowboxer, A Crack in Melancholy Time, Butterfly Potion, and his latest, Too Late to Call Texas. He is also the editor of the anthologies Mirages: Tales From Authors of the Macabre, and Dames, Booze, Guns & Gumshoes” (Amazon bio). [I am preparing a review on the latter as I write.]

To Sleep Gently has the feel of a classic 50s tale of darkness and desperation, with love that has to be earned with blood, sweat and bullets. A page turner worth the paper cuts.



AFTER EARTH (2013)
Stars: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Reviewed by Anthony Servante





Imagine my surprise when I found out that this was a M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie. I'm sorry, I meant Shyamalan. Once the media darling for film critics and movie fans alike, Sham has had some ups and downs since his Oscar nominated hit, The Sixth Sense. During his ups, publicity followed his upcoming films with equal parts anticipation and dread. Could he pull off another Sixth Sense? Or could we expect another Lady in the Water? Although his movies have made money overall, what with the international market buying what he had to sell, the American market was cautious, even suspicious; many felt that the director was trying too hard to replicate the success of his ghost story by giving his films his trademark "twist ending", often at the expense of his waning fan base who tired of waiting for the next surprise finale that never came.


M. Night in the dark again


Now we have After Earth. In its first weekend in release, it has bombed. I was the only viewer in the showing I attended this afternoon. But I didn't let that influence me. The movie alone provided the reasons for its lack of an audience. The trailers tried their best to focus on the "monsters" of the film, but ultimately it is a one-man show, and that man, young Jaden Smith, cannot carry the movie.


The Ursa senses fear


A father and son (Will Smith as the Ranger General and Jaden Smith as the Cadet who flunks Ranger school) crash land on Earth, one thousand years after being chased off the planet by the "flora and fauna" and creatures, who have evolved to hate mankind, presumably for all the oil spills and global warming. Nature must really hold a grudge since man hasn't even been around for 1000 years! The General has both legs broken, conveniently turning the movie over to the Cadet who has the chance now to redeem himself by finding the tail section of their busted up spacecraft and sending the distress signal. Only he has to fight his way through all those man-hating creatures we mentioned earlier.

Which brings us to the special effects. They aren't special. Jaden would have look more convincing fighting the blue screen. There was a queer little episode with a giant condor that takes to the human who tried to protect the bird's young from predatory cats. What the bird does for the Cadet is the stuff worthy of a M. Night Shyamalan ending, but I guess Will Smith had another ending in mind, so the director just threw it in where it had little to no effect on the plot. Will wanted a big showdown between the Cadet and the Ursa, a creature that "sees" fear, but is blind to the fearless. The General is fearless. Will the Cadet be? I wonder.


Jaden and Will


But let's not feel sorry for Mr. Shyamalan; his films have surely passed one billion bucks worldwide. Just 'cause his films bomb here in the States doesn't mean the Euros don't take a shine to his self-professed brilliant films. So, let's consider what critics are calling a bomb. After Earth earned 27.5 million opening weekend. With that Euro money, I'm sure it's bound to make a profit, given the money or lack of spent on CGI.

So, how was the movie? Not as good as an episode of the old The Outer Limits show, but almost as good as an episode from the new The Outer Limits show. The monsters could have been better. You don't need CGI for that, just good imagination, which is sorely lacking here. All that techno-babble can't replace a good set of fangs on a space alien. Plus, we expect to see more Will Smith in a Will Smith movie, but he wanted to showcase his son Jaden here. Our loss, not his. Would I recommend it? No. Even if it makes 100 million next weekend, I'll stick to my guns. M. Night Shamalamadingdong has another Euro hit on his hands. The rest of us will just have to wait to see if his next film pans out. Get it? Pans.