Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Blue Meanies To Return? Uh Oh

Robert Zemeckis is set to re-make "Yellow Submarine".

Talk about mixed emotions. Granted, Zemeckis has made several enjoyable films and let's not forget, his debut was a loving tribute to the Beatles. But this is "Yellow Submarine" we are talking about - a film which has little to do with the band. Nor is it too concerned with things like plot and story. That may have worked well in 1968 when there were probably few animation films in theaters (and fewer still with a vision as bizarre and surreal). What would be the point of remaking such a whimsical film in the spirit of the animation film conventions that have developed over the last 15 years?

Can audiences today sit through two hours (or ninety minutes) of visual puns, sight gags, art jokes and mind-bending psychedelia? Or rather, do the studio bosses have faith in the audience's ability to lose themselves in the Wonderland-like setting of "Yellow Submarine"?

It's only fitting that I include this link in this post. I was not aware that Heinz Edelmann, the genius behind the original "Yellow Submarine", died in July of this year. Here's a page with some choice clips from the film.

An insightful poster on this site has observed how "Yellow Submarine" is a "designer's film and not an animator's film". (If you are interested in animation and design, there are some cool links to Edelmann's artistic output in that comment thread.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Leader Of The Pack

Ellie Greenwich wrote beautiful songs (and she wrote this song - wow, just *wow*. BTW, she also co-wrote that classic lyric about "walking down the street, singing do-wah-diddy"....)

Rest in peace, Ellie.

The late-'50s-to-early-'60s girl group "movement" is one of my favorite phases of pop music. They had superb songwriters, great producers and above all, they wrote amazing melody lines and harmonies. Many of these attributes had a strong influence on the biggest names in the British Invasion (a movement which, if you believe the accepted wisdom about pop history, weakened the public's appetite for "Brill pop").

You can hear strong influences of the girl groups on the Beatles, particularly in their earlier albums. Their lyrics, vocal performances, song structures, arrangements and production all owe a great deal to the music that came out of that one building in New York city.

Soundscapes examines this influence in great detail in an article titled "Boys will be girl group". Here's an excellent excerpt from the analysis. (The emphasis is mine):
"Beyond the vocals, however, other facets of Girl Group arrangement abound in the Beatle oeuvre. Those echoed handclaps, tambourines, little obbligatos playing the melody in the middle, the use of realistic sound effects, all have their beginnings among the Girl Groups. Doubled instruments — for example, piano and harmonica playing the exact same thing to produce a "new" sound — was a Phil Spector technique developed for girl groups, later expanded and mastered by both the Fabs and the Beach Boys."
Check out the the Beatles' BBC Sessions album for some fantastic covers of music from this era. (Also read this review of the Beatles' cover of "Baby it's you" on PopMatters.) This version of "To know her is to love her", covered so wonderfully on the BBC sessions is not from the album but from an older Silver Beatles' session (?).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sweety Get Your Gun

"...while Chopra's Sweety will pick up a gun and shoot wildly at anyone if she or he stands in the way of her happiness.

These are not special women, in fact they are ordinary women -- the girl next door -- resourceful, self reliant, volcanic, fun loving and, most important, a real person unlike the melodramatic, over the top characters of previous years."
"Tomato, tomahto" of course. Or rather, you say "ordinary, fun-loving", I say "violent, gun-toting, crazed, blood-thirsty psychopath".

Is the writer of that hilariously bad piece serious or is she being ironic?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Am Thoroughly Irresponsible And Emotionally Unstable

And one day, you become the music you love.
"Jazz fans...were considered to be imaginative, peace-loving liberals with friendly and outgoing natures. Classical buffs are perceived as quiet, friendly, responsible and intelligent but also unathletic, physically unattractive and dull."
And pop fans?
"...conventional and calm but lacking in intelligence and wisdom."
You suck because your favorite music sucks.

(I bet that woman with the headphones - from the stock image used in the story - is a pop fan. She has a calm but idiotic look on her face. Or maybe she's listening to something called "Nature Sounds". Which would make her idiotic and annoying.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Secret Mantra For The Tiara

Big disappointment: this headline had me thinking that a Miss Universe contestant would actually be chanting the "Gayatri Mantra" as a part of her talent routine. (What is Gayatri Mantra?) That, let me tell you, would be bizarrely cool and ballsy - though "ballsy" is an adjective the judges may or may not like very much in the Miss Universe contest.

But it turns out, upon reading that article - the horror - that the said contestant will only be using the mantra "as it will give her strength". (Never heard of Bournvita?)

Such a pity. For a moment, I foolishly imagined Miss Universe contestants reading from important spiritual or philosophical texts from their countries up on the stage. That would be something, wouldn't it?

"For the swimsuit round, Miss Israel will tell us about "Yonah and the Great Fish" and the relevance of this allegory to the modern world. But meanwhile, here's the beautiful Miss Denmark. She's 21, 5'10" and will read "Either/Or" in its entirety.

There would be furious debates backstage! Miss Vietnam and Miss Sri Lanka coming to blows over interpretations of the Four Noble Truths, thus marking the first time in history when excited shouts of "CAT FIGHT!" would be drowned out by voices demanding an explanation of "DUKKHA".

Tits and ass and cosmic profundity. Is that really too much to expect from women who are competing for the title of Miss UNIVERSE?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rhymes With Doppelgänger

Spooky stuff: Byron, Donne, Shelley, Goethe and Owen all experienced the phenomenon of doppelgängers. (Link to Lord Byron's story on Futility Closet; see other poets' experiences at the bottom of the linked post.)

This doppelgänger business is apparently not rare, nor is it restricted to poets. I've myself heard a couple of stories from family members. As with the above poets, the sightings were connected with news of death or childbirth. I wonder why?

Actually, it might be fun to run into one's doppelgänger on the street. Though one may have to employ techniques from this classic scene to separate the real one from the spirt. (BTW, that clip is hands down one of the top 5 funniest sequences in cinema history.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weeds Are Just Weeds*

Robert Wright writes about his experience with meditation in the Times' "Happy Days" blog:
"On a walk one day I looked down at one of those weeds and it looked as beautiful as any other plant. Why, I wondered, had I bought into the “weed” label? Why had I so harshly judged an innocent plant?"
I'm with Robert Wright on that. Weeds are plants too. I'll take a wild, untended patch *any* day over a manicured, fussed-over garden.

But a lizard, that he also writes about in his article, is my blind-spot.
"...there was my moment of bonding with a lizard. I looked at this lizard and watched it react to local stimuli and thought: I’m in the same boat as that lizard — born without asking to be born, trying to make sense of things, and far from getting the whole picture."
Indiana Jones couldn't stand snakes. Henry Jones, Sr., his father, couldn't stand rats and I will never ever have the jones for empathizing with lizards. It's a childhood phobia thing.

Yes, I know, that is *just* where my inquiry should begin. Why am I repelled by the lizard's form? What exactly is it about a lizard that simply freezes me? I recognize, with more than just a little sadness and frustration, these are questions I can't even begin to think about.

So, good post, Mr. Wright, but I would much rather work with weeds and ponder over simpler questions like the Meaning Of It All. At least I do not have to deal with slithering forms, beady little eyes, darting tongues and terrifying scenarios involving ceiling fans and detachable tails.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Down For Everyone Or Just Me?

Gmail's been misbehavin' since AM. According to this resource, it does appear to be down for everyone.

No, make that "it's just you". Hang on - now it says it's down for everyone. Back again. Down.

Is there a service that can tell me if is down for everyone or if it's just me?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pet Sounds - Minus The Sounds

The Beach Boys were among the finest practitioners of bel canto in pop music. (What is bel canto? Read this NYT article from 2008.)

But very often, studio albums with their layers of orchestration conceal, not augment, the power of the vocal performance.

So listen to this: The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds", a capella. (Link to a YT channel - no video, just audio.) The band's singing and harmonizing is just out of this world. My favorites tracks are "God only knows" and "I just wasn't made for these times". Even the favorite "Sloop John B." packs some lovely surprises.

For a lot of us who were raised on Brit Rock (or even American rock from the 1960s), the instrumental arrangements on Beach Boys albums sound a bit old-fashioned. There are no growling guitars and no flashy solos to be heard here. Yet, this was the album that pushed the Beatles (and George Martin) to outdo the Beach Boys (with "Sgt. Pepper").

Listening to these pure, distilled voices on these a capella tracks is a reminder of why "Pet Sounds" is a great album.

(Found this on MetaFilter)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Jersey Anything's Legal As Long As You Don't Get Caught

Bob Dylan (Link to ABC)
Shah Rukh Khan (link to

I really like how Bob Dylan is reported as walking around in the "pouring rain" (read the description of his clothes on the second page of the article).

What if Dylan had identified himself as Robert Zimmerman and if the policewoman was a John Lennon fan? She could have responded with a devastating "I don't believe in Zimmerman". Ha ha.

(Post title from the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter and the Monkey Man")

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Wizard of Waukesha

Les Paul died yesterday.

I was thinking about this. Millions of us wouldn't be who we are had Les Paul not tinkered with the guitar. No, I mean it. Our personalities would have turned out all different - and just wrong. Another hundred thousand or more wouldn't have been *conceived* were it not for music made on the electric guitar. (So, who's your daddy?) Boy, a *lot* of power resided in one man's hands.

Here's an obligatory list of some famous Gibson Les Paul players.

You may not see his picture on the above page, but George Harrison is listed on it. His Les Paul was gifted to him by a guitarist who once fronted a band called Cream. You may have heard of them. In classic blues -and maritime - traditions, the guitar was christened "Lucy". Here she is, the beautiful, seductive and much-storied Lucy.

But it's not just about the solidbody guitar. Les Paul is also credited with the first commercial recording featuring overdubs (Rodgers and Hart classic, YT video; a *delightful* piece of gee-taaar music) . What would modern pop and rock be without that vital recording technique?

For that, and for Whole Lotta Love and Tales of brave Ulysses and the gently weeping Lucy - and for making my teenage years worth living - thank you, sir.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flight Of Ignoramus

One of my life's little delights is hearing from Air India - their frequent flyer program, to be more specific. The latest email, informing me that they have upgraded their fleet, does not disappoint at all:

"You, no doubt, know that our daily non-stop services from JFK operate with new 777-200LRs, and our daily flights from Chicago with 777-300ERs." (emphasis mine)

I can see a pop quiz at the airport before checking in.

AI Officer: "What aircraft will we be flying today?"
Passenger: "Umm...747?"

Officer: "FAIL! EPIC FAIL! Back of the bus! No poori-chole for you!"

(then turning to the stewardess, with a sneer on his face):

"Foolish civilians! The answer we are expecting is - "the longer-range 777-300ER and 777-200LR variants entered service in 2004 and 2006, respectively, while a freighter version, the 777F, first flew in 2008. Both long-range 777 models and the 777F are equipped with General Electric GE90 engines, wingtip extensions of 12.8 ft (3.9 m), and raked wingtips."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

LMW 28IF: Looking At A Cover Again

40 years ago, the world's best-known rock festival was being planned when on the other side of the Atlantic, a photo-shoot was taking place that would give us one of best-known pictures in pop culture. (Also in the Times)

I have never really found a satisfactory answer as to why so many people are drawn to this photograph. (It remains one of the most parodied photographs.) To be clear, I am talking about its composition and the story it tells us.

Maybe I should try and remember why I fell in love with this image.

Was there an air of mystery about it when I first saw it? It is, in a away, a shot of a group of men marching toward a fantastic journey into the future.

There were all the obvious questions: why are they all dressed so differently? Where are Paul's shoes? Who are those people in the background? Could they have known this would be the band's final album?

Maybe it was the composition (Photography/art geeks: feel free to chip in with your own ideas). A converging point in the background and the subjects walking, not toward the convergence, but across the frame, defying some rule. That's what rock bands are supposed to do: defy rules, and this band, more than any other, defied nearly ever rule in the book even as they wrote them.

Another aspect of the cover that makes it interesting to me, composition-wise, is that it is a realistic picture (unlike, say, Revolver) and shows one of the most gifted teams in music in simple, bright and cheerful light, that seems to harmonize well with the music inside.

But you also realize, upon hearing the album several times, that it hides more complexities than "Sgt. Pepper", which has a busier, cluttered, pop-obsessed cover photo. That contrast creates an element of surprise.

Such a simple cover, it's practically the opening line of a joke or an absurd play. Four men are crossing the street. Thirty minutes later, nothing happens. The love you take is equal to the love you make. The end.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bueller? Bueller?

Tributes to director John Hughes are all over the Web. (links to Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott)

But few are as personal as this one. (Via Waxy)

I haven't seen any John Hughes films on the big screen. So most of my recollections of his pre-1987 films are linked to cheap, pirated VHS prints. When I think of "Breakfast Club" or "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", I can't see the sharp, neon-glow vividness of the 1980s. But still, those colors shone brighter than Indian state television's palette. So here was the perfect combination that young film-makers probably dream of: a new medium (cable TV/VHS), a new musical sound ('80s pop; music just filled his films), a new kind of character (the '80s teenager) and of course, a new audience (again, the '80s teenager).

It seems strange now, but I remember some of his films made me feel a little threatened. Not the content of the films but the form. They were just completely wrapped up in the sensibility of the period and it all felt very foreign - and hence both wrong and desirable - to me. But now when I see some of those Brat Pack films, I feel a mix of nostalgia, recollections of that foreignness and memories of wanting to grow up fast.

But the one film of his, other than "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", that I still enjoy is his road movie. Come Christmas time, I simply must watch that film on TV. (A very affectionate remembrance of the film in today's Opinion page in the Times.)

And finally, one more reason to love the man: in my opinion, John Hughes probably made the FINEST use of a Beatles song in a film. (See other films with Beatles music.)

R.I.P, John.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Geometry of Kangra Art

If geometry can be applied to study Islamic Art, why not to Hindu Art?

Courtesy a link posted by an anonymous commenter in my previous post on Islamic Art, a geometric analysis of Kangra paintings.

From the linked page:
"Observers of these paintings often comment that their lines, forms and colors combine to produce a rhythmical and harmonious musical effect. This is no accident. These paintings are composed by a combination of science, art and religion. At their heart is a knowledge of aesthetic geometry deriving from the ancient world."
I must confess- I've always taken Kangra Art at its face value. The paintings are undoubtedly beautiful but I've never really discerned pattern in them. But now I see there is much more lurking under the surface than just pretty pictures of Krishna, Radha and randomly placed deer.

Thanks for the link, Anonymous. The Internet indeed is a wonderful school.

I should apply pattern analysis on my third-grade "drawing" class homework. Who knows what that might throw up! The operative words being "throw up".

Must See: Pattern In Islamic Art

"At their best these images express a refined and even sublime aesthetic sensibility, but they always remain perfectly accessible."
Four thousand free images of themes, motifs and designs from Islamic Art. All downloadable, with accompanying analysis, historical significance, bibliography.

Go eat your heart out.

(Via MetaFilter)

Update: Via Feanor, an excellent link to an analysis of the types of symmetry found in Islamic art.

Second update: Rahul sends in another link that looks at the intersection of Islamic Art and Geometry. Great find - thanks Rahul!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Die Die My Darling

From yesterday's Op-Ed page in the Times, a column about the decade-long "undoing" of the music industry:
"This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model."
Had the people running the music labels understood this fact in 1999 - the year when the business peaked (and oh the cosmic irony - the year when the world discovered Napster) - or even in 2005, they could have come up with a more meaningful pricing model, instead of letting "free" become the standard.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


A very cool little blog-post on Benjamin Franklin in the NYT, as a part of the "And the pursuit of happiness" blog by writer-illustrator Maira Kalman.

Is there anything Franklin couldn't do?