Monday, January 28, 2013

The Beatles - The Complete BBC Sessions (Purple Chick) (10 Discs plus Bonus Disc)

January is always the slowest month for me, in terms of putting up new posts on this blog. Coming down off the highs of the run-up to Christmas and New Years, and facing all of the holiday bills I now have to pay . . . plus football season is winding up (with my team, as per usual, not making the playoffs) . . . and the weather REALLY starts to suck, so now I get to face weeks of driving to work over icy roads on bald tires.  Let's just say that my mood during January isn't the greatest.  I'm just trying to drag myself through the month, with a thick, hazy cloud of ennui hanging over my head like a real-life Schleprock ("Wowzy wowzy woo woo", indeed). And that slackadaisical attitude can't help but extend itself into my writing; I just lose the motivation to put pen to paper (or more accurately, "fingers to keyboard") for a couple of weeks.

But gradually, as February and the prospect of warmer weather in the near future approaches, I usually shake out of this funk, and start getting back to some serious posting. So just bear with me, folks, please - I'll be fully back at it soon enough.

In the meantime, I hope this one tides you all over: The Complete BBC Sessions, put out by the good people at Purple Chick back in 2004. This is the updated and expanded ten-disc set they put out in late 2004 (they originally released a three-disc set earlier that year), containing (by my count) all fifty-one Beatles shows aired on BBC Radio between 1962 and 1965.  And if THAT'S not enough, there's a little something extra I've included with this post - the elusive 11th disc in this set, containing interviews the band and band members conducted on a variety of shows between 1963 and 1970, along with songs from guest bands that were included as part of their many BBC shows (very few of their BBC shows were 100% Beatles material - music from groups the Fabs liked were usually included to fill out the programs).

I've been getting quite a bit of demand for this set over the past week, so I figured I'd post it, and let the masses have a crack at it as well! I've converted all of the albums over from FLAC to .mp3 - sound quality is still good, and the files are much smaller and iTunes-friendlier.  And all the song names and interviews denote the shows they originated from - it took me a while to find and append that information on each file, especially on the bonus disc - but it was worth it.

So, for your (extensive) listening pleasure, I proudly present you with The Beatles' Complete BBC Sessions, nearly 20 solid hours of nonstop listening spread over eleven discs, courtesy of Purple Chick. Enjoy this humongous stopgap done to rectify my recent lack of posts . . . and as always, please let me know what you think.

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[Postscript (26 May 13) - getting a HUGE amount of interest in this posting over the past week, due to the recent article in the Atlantic Monthly regarding the Beatles' BBC recordings - thank you, magazine writer Colin Fleming!  Here's a link to the article, if you're interested.]

Friday, January 11, 2013

National Public Radio (NPR) - The Sunshine Hotel and Charlie's Story

In my opinion, this is the single best story EVER presented on National Public Radio. I heard this show when it was first aired in the late summer of 1998, as I was driving home from work in Texas and listening to NPR. The Sunshine Hotel is one of the last of what used to be scores of flophouses in the Bowery section of New York City, places where the transients, hoboes and alcoholics in that area could find cheap temporary lodgings while sleeping off their latest bender. At one time, tens of thousands of men lived in the scores of cheap hotels lining the streets of this area.

For several months earlier that year, two radio producers from a foundation called Sound, David Isay and Stacy Abramson, were given unprecedented 24-hour access to the Sunshine Hotel and its denizens. They recorded dozens of hours of audio, which they then edited down into a combination documentary/sound collage that captures not only the story of the place, but the ambience and feel of living there. The
narrator of the piece was Nathan Smith, the hotel's longtime manager, who, despite his gravelly voice and 'Nu Yawk' inflections, exudes personality, warmth and humanity as he describes the grim way of life there. And what he describes is not pretty - dank, tiny cubicles with ceilings of chicken wire and beds full of fleas and bedbugs, occupied by a motley collection of addicts, mental patients and other castoffs of society. But with Smith's words, and the stories of some of the dwellers there, the people occupying this filthy, nearly forgotten throwback to another era became more than just a collection of losers, head cases and down-and-outers on the tail end of society. They are real people, with issues and adversities that most of us will hopefully never have to face. I found the entire story fascinating, so much so that I continued listening to the show long after I arrived home, sitting in my driveway to hear it in its entirety.
Many years later, I was in New York City visiting an old friend from New Zealand, who was over in the States on a brief vacation. She had an artistic bent, so we spent most of the time going through some of the city's top art museums: the Guggenheim, the Metropolitian Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art. She was staying with some people who had an apartment on St. Marks Place, and the plan was that we were all supposed to meet downtown later, then decide where to go for dinner. The location selected for our meeting place was the lobby of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, a funky, modern building located on Bowery, about two blocks south of where CBGB's used to be. Everyone was there at the scheduled time, and the decision was made to try a restaurant up on East Houston Street, so we all walked out and headed north. Just past the museum facade, I happened to glance up, and noticed this sign:

The legendary (in my mind) Sunshine Hotel was RIGHT NEXT DOOR to this place! I was momentarily tempted to stop and go inside, but I don't think the group of people I was with would be too keen on waiting for me while I explored what no doubt appeared to them to be nothing more than a nasty old tenement. As far as I knew, they hadn't heard the story of the place, so they just didn't know what it meant
A couple of months after "The Sunshine Hotel" aired, the same producers presented another piece on NPR, "Charlie's Story", as an adjunct to their earlier show. Seeking a more first-hand look at life in these transient hotels,
Isay and Abramson befriended Charlie Geter, a long-time resident of the Palace Hotel, another Bowery flop. They gave Geter a tape recorder and asked him to interview other residents of the Palace Hotel and also tell his life story. It took Geter two years to finish the project, hampered by the reluctance of other hotel residents to tell their stories to him, and also facing his own serious health issues during that time.

But he DID complete it, and turned in a narrative just as compelling as that of "The Sunshine Hotel". This was another story that I sat in the driveway listening to from start to finish. The last voice heard on the recording is that of Geter, describing his troubled upbringing and his lack of accomplishment at any phase of his life, and how by finishing the project Isay and Abramson entrusted him with, how proud he was at finally completing something of substance and worth that will live on after he's gone.

Of everything in that story, those final words were the ones that got to me; I think of them often. Everyone, no matter what their rank or station, wants to leave some part of themselves behind that people will recall and remember. It makes me think about what part of my work or legacy, if any, will be remembered when my time comes . . . or if I'm destined to be just one of the anonymous, unnoticed billions who have come before and will eventually come after me, contributing my own small part to my miniscule corner of the world, but having no impact or influence on the great events or movements on this planet. We'll see, I guess.

Apparently, David Isay has the same sort of thoughts that I have, about the stories and histories of ordinary people. He eventually founded StoryCorps, a non-profit organization set up to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all walks of life (if you listen regularly to NPR, you've no doubt heard some of the stories collected by this group).

But enough about that for now. NPR released both of these Bowery stories on CD at the tail end of 1999, and I wasted no time in purchasing the disc. So here, for your listening pleasure, is The Sunshine Hotel and Charlie's Story, produced by Sound and aired on National Public Radio on September 18th, 1998 and December 30th, 1998, respectively. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Poll results: "There have been a lot of questionable film remakes recently ("Red Dawn" and "Total Recall" are the ones that immediately come to mind). Which of these classics should/will never, ever be remade?

Thanks for the participation in this poll conducted last month. Here are the results:
Pulp Fiction: 38%
Blade Runner: 38%
Back To The Future : 38%
Lord Of The Rings trilogy: 30%
Raiders Of The Lost Ark: 23%
Harry Potter series: 23%
Casablanca: 23%
The Terminator/T2: 15%
Citizen Kane: 7%
Gone With The Wind : 7%
Vertigo: 7%
I was somewhat surprised at first at the strength shown by Back To The Future, as a movie that should never be remade.  Then I thought about it a bit . . . and yeah, as usual, you all are right. Back To The Future has that rare combination of story and casting that makes it impossible to replicate; it's hard to imagine any actor, then, now or in the future, filling the shoes of Christopher Lloyd or Michael J. Fox (I've seen stills of Eric Stoltz, the original Marty McFly before he was fired two weeks into production - even then, he just looked wrong for the part). And it would be madness to try to improve upon the screenplay for this film. I recall reading a review about it a couple of years ago, and the critic pointed out that practically EVERY line in Back To The Future was there for a reason - even the seemingly throwaway lines had enormous portent later in the film. Now THAT'S good writing.

Pulp Fiction is on a different level than Back To The Future on being unable to be remade. The writing for this film is just as strong as that for BTTF - stronger, actually. However (and I hate to say this), in my opinion the casting in Pulp Fiction, while brilliant in most aspects, is lacking for several characters (such as Amanda Plummer's Yolanda and Eric Stoltz's (wow - him again) Lance - and especially with Quentin Tarantino's Jimmie, a portrayal which singlehandedly nearly submarines the third act of the movie). But the thing with Pulp Fiction is that it was such a unique, groundbreaking movie that is both of its time (the mid-90s) and yet timeless in that it has yet to be ably duplicated or topped - THAT'S what makes this film one that future auteurs shouldn't ever consider touching.

My own personal choice for "Most Unremakeable Film" is the Lord Of The Rings trilogy - in every aspect of these movies, from story to casting to location, they completely stayed true to Tolkien's vision, and honored the underlying feel and philosophy of these books. I can't imagine any future filmmaker improving upon these films in any significant way - I think it would be pure hubris and folly for any future director to consider the Lord Of The Rings films as anything other than a perfect work.

All of the films in this poll are such that I hope and pray no one ever decides to give them another go. They're called 'classics' for a reason - let 'em stay that way, I say.

Again, thanks for voting. I'll think up another reader poll soon. Until then, I'll leave you with a film soundtrack classic: Vangelis' memorable, atmospheric and groundbreaking score to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, composed in 1982 but not officially released until 1994 on EMI (Atlantic Records in the U.S.). Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Poll results: ". . . And along those same lines, there are some old movies that are crying out for a remake. Which one would you most want to see remade?"

Well, this was no contest:
Westworld: 62%
Dune: 37%
Fantastic Voyage: 37%
The Running Man: 25%
A Clockwork Orange: 12%
Close Encounters Of The 3rd Kind: 12%
The Towering Inferno: 12%
Ben: 0%
Duel: 0%
And I couldn't agree more - Westworld (1973) is a movie all but begging for a well-deserved remake. I find it simply stunning that no one in Hollywood has apparently even thought about redoing this film at any time over the past forty years. With today's filmmaking technology, camera techniques and marketing savvy, a modernized Westworld would be a guaranteed moneymaker for any studio that released it.

Despite the passing of time, the hokey special effects and the (mostly) less-than-inspired casting (I mean, c'mon - weedy Richard Benjamin and the future Mr. Barbra Streisand as the 'heroes'? (although oddly, the casting ends up being strangely effective)), the original movie still holds up remarkably well today, and remains thoroughly watchable and entertaining. Yul Brynner's android Gunslinger role is considered in some circles to be just as iconic as the actor's longtime leading role on stage and screen as the King in The King And I. He's an absolute badass in Westworld, an emotionless, unstoppable killing machine; the character is an obvious inspiration for Schwarzenegger's Terminator character a decade later (so much so that it borders on outright plagiarism, in my opinion. But I digress . . .).

The other top three films on the list following Westworld are also movies I would like to see remade. Dune (1984) was doomed from the very start - plans to film Frank Herbert's novel had been kicked around Hollywood in various stages of 'development hell' for nearly 15 years beforehand; the producer (Dino De Laurentiis) was finally all but forced to make the movie just as the production rights were set to expire. De Laurentiis hired a near-novice director (David Lynch, coming off his first big-budget movie, The Elephant Man) to helm the project. Even then, Lynch had the innate sense of scope and quirky artistic vision to make Herbert's world a reality, but the producer didn't give him the opportunity or freedom to bring that off-kilter vision properly to the screen. The result was an incomprehensible, over-produced, big-budget. widely-panned monstrosity that flopped hard at the box office. With the right producer, writer and director, and given ample time to flesh out a coherent narrative and plausible alternate 'world', a reimagined Dune could be a blockbuster.

Fantastic Voyage (1966) is a movie that, like Westworld, would benefit greatly from incorporating modern, improved special effects into it (though I doubt that anything around today can surpass the unique 'special effects' that co-star Raquel Welch brought to that film!).  As for The Running Man (1987), Schwarzenegger's version is an enjoyable live-action cartoon, with Richard Dawson's perfectly played villian Damon Killian stealing the movie right out from under Arnold. But the "Running Man" novel, written by Stephen King, is WAY darker and more thought-provoking than the muscle-bound action flick that ended up on screen. I think that a remake would surpass the original by utilizing this more-serious tone. Hell, it can't hurt - they tried it for last year's Total Recall remake; might as well give it a shot here too.

But that's just my two cents. I'd appreciate hearing any comments you all might have on this subject. Thanks again for voting, and I'll try to think of a new poll question soon. In the meantime, here's Westworld (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), composed and arranged by Fred Karlin and released by MGM in 1973. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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