Monday, February 22, 2010

Script notes for Meerkat Manor: The Movie—Meerkats In The City

Note: all meerkats will be CGI.

We begin with a meerkat scientist/researcher, a Jane Goodall type, ideally played by Patrick Stewart. He lives among the meeerkats and observes them. He is struck by how extraordinarily intelligent the group he is studying seems to be. We see a lot of shots of him beginning to train/teach the meerkats. We see him reading to them as they sit in a semicircle, showing them how to take high tea, etc. The meerkats are a sassy and lively bunch.

Sadly, the meerkat scientist dies. This is a real tragedy, but there is a silver lining on this dark cloud: the scientist has left his substantial personal fortune/grant money to the meerkats, who quite naturally use this newfound wealth to travel to the city to live. They are convinced to do this by the wistful young main protagonist meerkat, who discovers the meerkat scientist's notes, outlining his dream of taking the meerkats into the wider world to show everyone just how smart and wonderful the meerkats are.

The meerkats take up residence in a fancy downtown hotel (think Home Alone 2), where they almost immediately run afoul of the bellhop, played by John Turturro. He is dedicated to the hotel and cannot stand to see it being overrun by what are in his mind vermin. A good introduction will show him walking to a limousine to open the door only—to his horror—to be confronted with a band of sassy meerkats. “Keep the change,” our young meerkat protagonist will quip as he and his friends scurry past, tossing the bellhop a quarter. “Meerkats,” the bellhop will mutter under his breath, “I hate meerkats.”

There will be the inevitable montage, where we see the meerkats inspecting their swanky new digs. James Brown's “I Feel Good” will play as they run around the suite, acting crazy, dancing, wearing sunglasses, etc. We will see the meerkats don swimming trunks and do cannonballs into a bubblebath.

Hopefully, Joan Cusack will be available to play the concierge, who is secretly in cahoots with the John Turturro character. She too, hates the meerkats, and the two of them are together scheming to swindle the meerkats out of their inherited fortune. Not sure how this will play out; most likely by befriending one of the stupider/less outgoing meerkats and spinning some kind of tale.

The meerkats will need a human friend to stand in for the audience. Probably another hotel employee, or, better yet, one of the meerkat scientist's students, who helps the meerkats. Need to do some work on this character.

Unsure of exactly how to wrap this up. Perhaps the meerkats will lose or squander their fortune in some way, and wind up in the laboratory care of the student, who will be full-fledged professor in the sequel.

Note: idea for sequel: the meerkats are stolen/kidnapped from the lab by someone who wants to exploit their intelligence for his own ends.

Need to continue workshopping these ideas so a full script can be shopped around. With any luck this can be in theaters by Christmas.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Late winter in Dallas, a city that wants to pretend that it's still 1984, and that the oil will never stop flowing. With all its ugly angular buildings that send sunlight out in every direction, but mostly directly into your eyes. A city that desperately wants to ignore all those cool, skinny kids with their too-tight jeans and their little flannel shirts all scuttling around the periphery. Six Flags and six hundred convenience stores. Hard to get a fix on the weird, meaty sadness you feel when you're ten miles out of town and you see a herd of alpacas calmly wandering the perimeter of a manmade lake in the middle of a subdivision. Steak houses the size of churches and churches the size of soccer stadiums. East of the city, just outside Canton, you pass a pasture where a dozen camels sit calmly, being slowly covered up with snow. There is no way for anyone to explain to them just exactly what is happening.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For whatever reason, 2009 turned out to be a really good year for music. It was probably my favorite year for music in half a decade, and certainly an improvement from the dark days of 2007/08, gloomy years when I sort of began to wonder if I actually liked music anymore (I didn't even bother making a list for 08—can't even remember what if anything I was enjoying at the time). But anyway. That is in the past. Let us be grateful for today. Here is my list, arranged in no particular order:

Top Ten Albums

Vic Chesnutt—At The Cut
I think I sort of took Vic Chesnutt for granted. I loved Little and The Salesman And Bernadette, but found his other work sort of patchy, and largely stopped listening. When North Star Deserter, his previous collaboration with Guy Picciotto and Thee Silver Mt. Zion came out, I gave it a cursory listen but didn't hold it in any particular regard. But a few days before Christmas, I sat up late drinking and giving At The Cut the attention it deserved: it's a stunning record about death and decay by a fantastic singer and lyricist that will unfortunately be forever linked with the circumstances of Chesnutt's death.

Built To Spill—There Is No Enemy
Built To Spill's previous album, You In Reverse was distressingly by-the-numbers: it wasn't a bad album by any means (the band has never released anything even like a bad album), but it sounded aimless, which is probably worse, implying disinterest or lack of commitment. It felt like the band only made the album because making albums is what bands do, and it had been awhile since their last one. But There Is No Enemy, despite sounding more or less exactly like every other Built To Spill album, feels light years ahead of its predecessor. Doug Martsch actually sounds engaged with the songs he has written, and even though the subject matter is often less than sunny, There Is No Enemy makes me feel an incredible joy.

Phosphorescent—To Willie
This was the year that I rediscovered Willie Nelson. Having loved Red Headed Stranger for years, when confronted with Nelson's other, later, albums, I was invariably disappointed by their uneveness. As it turns out, I was just going in the wrong direction: Red Headed Stranger is actually just one of about a half dozen great albums he produced in the 70s. Phases and Stages, Yesterday's Wine, Shotgun Willie and The Troublemaker are all fantastic records that I introduced myself to thanks to Phosphorescent's woozy collection of Nelson originals. Great, beautiful record.

Mt Eerie—Wind's Poem
This was the first Phil Elverum album I ever really got into, and it's a grand, amazing thing. The sonic equivalent of being alone in a huge dark forest and listening to the roar of wind shake the trees. An album about being a very small thing with a very small voice that sounds both humbled by and in awe of the enormity of the earth and the forces at work upon it

The Mountain Goats—The Life Of The World To Come
Apart from At The Cut, no album made me think about dying more this year than The Life Of The World To Come, from the suicide (David Foster Wallace?) in “Phillipians 3:20-21” to John Darnielle's mother-in-law, cancer-stricken, in “Matthew 25:21” (“the last of something bright burning/still burning”) to the captive Thylacine, last of its kind, baring its teeth in defiance in “Deuteronomy 2:10”, a song about the eventual extinction of everything.

Califone—All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Much like Built To Spill, the last Califone album seemed more like the work of a band making a record just for the hell of it. It is to their credit that in spite of its rather workmanlike quality, it was still pretty good—an album they could have made in their sleep, but still pretty good. They came back in a big way with All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, though. It's what Califone do best: combine ancient Harry Smith Anthology-style songcraft with modern production—clanky percussion, washes of synthesizer, buzzing frets and distortion. Califone are masters of creating dreamy sonic landscapes that are at once incredibly vivid and somewhat hard to pin down. A great album by one of America's most overlooked bands.

Lil Wayne—No Ceilings
For all the praise heaped on Tha Carter III, No Ceilings (despite a kind of crappy final third)beats it by a mile. A friend of mine once described Wayne as a really smart dumb rapper, which, to my mind, is a perfect descriptor. And with that in mind, he sounds his absolute best, to me at least, when backed by the shittiest, ringtone-stupid beats, which are in abundance here, making No Ceilings my personal favorite Wayne album.

Magnolia Electric Co—Josephine
I have reached the point with Jason Molina and his work where I've sort of lost my ability to be objective. Most reviewers thought this was a mediocre effort, but for my money Josephine is the best album the band has released since 2001's Magnolia Electric Co. In theory a concept album about a recently deceased friend, Josephine in fact tackles the same issues Molina has wrestled with for over a decade: disappointment, failure, the inability to live up to one's potential. Probably the most musically varied Molina release yet, with traces of doo-wop (“Rock of Ages”), straight-up country weepers (“Song For Willie”, the title track), and the haunted, rootsy numbers most closely associated with the band (“The Handing Down”, “Map Of The Falling Sky”). My favorite album of the year.

Bill Callahan—Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
Bill Callahan continues being one of the four or five best lyricists working today. He is an absolute master at paring things down to their most simple components, whether it be heartbreak or coming to terms with one's atheism. I suspect that this album, along with At The Cut have probably the most staying power of all the records listed here. Fantastic, heavy stuff.

Sonic Youth—The Eternal
I have to confess that I never really “got” Sonic Youth. I respected them immensely, and I liked a handful of their songs, but their albums always sort of bored me. Growing up I made a couple of efforts to get into their music, but it never clicked. But somewhere around the time of Murray Street, I began to come around to their sound, and have as of this writing, fully embraced them, and would rank The Eternal on par with my own favorite album of theirs, Washing Machine. I still don't like Daydream Nation, though. Go figure.

Top Ten Songs

Shakira—“She Wolf”
The single of the year, hands down. Shakira decides to make a sexy dance-pop track, and she does it so well it's a shame the rest of the album isn't as good.

We Were Promised Jetpacks—“Quiet Little Voices”
I listened to a lot of Scottish rock music this year, bands like The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks, lots of very serious young dudes being serious about their feelings. They all sort of remind me of my old favorites Idlewild, who were also Scottish, and also terminally serious. The Twilight Sad are probably the best of all these groups, but “Quiet Little Voices” is probably the best song of the lot, soaring and anthemic and full of muscle. It sounds like it could have been a hit once, a long time ago. A song that has the kind of romantic melancholy you can only associate with youth.

Sunset Rudown—“You Go On Ahead” (Black Cab Sessions)
I typically only really like Sunset Rubdown in small doses, or not at all. I feel like Krug (and basically all of those guys in the Frog Eyes/Swan Lake/Destroyer/Wolf Parade mafia) has a tendency to be needlessly cryptic and yelpy and irritating, but this version (which is infinitely better than its studio counterpart) is loose and joyous and makes me wish I liked more of their material.

Keri Hilson feat Lil Wayne—“Turning Me On”
My favorite single sixty seconds of music this year was Wayne's gleeful, breathless verse dropped into the last third of this goofy Rihanna-lite club track.

Destroyer—“Bay Of Pigs”
Dan Bejar is probably the only person who could get me to intentionally listen to a weird ambient disco track that runs somewhere near a quarter hour. Its opening lines (“Listen, I've been drinking”) set the stage perfectly, conjuring images of a young socialite (“a crumbling beauty trapped in a river of ice/a crumbling beauty trapped in paradise”) gently staggering around a fabulous home on the edge of some personal—or, owing to the song's title, literal—apocalypse. A song bathed in pale white fluorescents.

Taylor Swift—“White Horse”
Swift's big hit this year was “You Belong With Me”, a pretty terrible song about a young girl who pines for an asshole who ignores her in favor of a vapid cheerleader-type. In the infinitely better “White Horse”, the girl gets what she wants, and finds out it's not all it's cracked up to be. An inversion of the standard high-school-love-conquers-all bullshit so prevalent in pop music, and a nice addition to the canon of leaving-my-stifling-small-town-behind-me songs. Swift is really likeable: I hope she gets better at music.

Animal Collective—“My Girls”
I've never really cared much for Animal Collective—they always just sounded so formless. But even I was won over by this song, which manages to shackle some kind of structure to their usual clusterfuck of directionlessness. “My Girls” was a refreshing blast of open-hearted optimism, a trait I generally lack, but one that, in the proper amounts, I'm more than willing to open myself up to.

Girls—“Hellhole Rat Race”
A trebly burnout's final words, recorded on cassette, and chewed to bits by the churning California sun. From an album dotted with a handful of bright spots, this one was far and away the brightest.

Twilight Sad—“Reflections Of The Television”/“I Became A Prostitute”
One of the things I never liked about shoegaze was how wimpy if often sounded. I like pretty, ethereal vocals as much as the next person, but I also like a little passion. The Twilight Sad are the best of a handful of young Scottish bands, and the closest to being a full-on shoegaze act, but one thing they are not is twee. The first two tracks off their album Forget The Night Ahead are seething, angry storms of distortion with pounding drums and ear-ringing feedback. If their feelings are hurt, they're out to hurt yours back.

Lady Gaga—“Bad Romance”/Britney Spears—“3”
I strongly suspect the me of ten years ago would probably have been horrified by most of the songs I enjoyed this year, but the me of ten years ago was pretty stupid sometimes, and was probably a bit too concerned with keeping it real (the me of ten years ago didn't even like bands with keyboards, unless they were like, upright pianos or a harpsichord or some shit), and the me of now really does not give even the slightest shit about that. There was a lot of trashy pop music I liked this year, including Miley Cyrus's “Party In The USA” (fantastic bubblegum) and “Videophone” Beyonce's collaboration with Lady Gaga, the It Girl of 2009. I find the argument that Lady Gaga is some kind of avant garde genius a little silly; she's obviously smart, and has an aesthetic ideal, but that hardly makes her Andy Warhol. The Britney Spears song, an ode to what the French would call a menage a trois, is more or less indefensible, but what the hell: I really liked it.

Which in the end, is the best defense one can ever offer in these kinds of situations.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

These are wise words indeed:

To be good, whiskey has to be named after a dude. Jim Beam and Jack Daniels are perennial favorites; Evan Williams is a dark horse; George Dickel is my favorite. Preferably a number will be involved as well. No. 8. For example. The label should read like a secret Masonic world government, just like the back of a one dollar bill, Dr. Bronner’s soap, or anything else cool. If you understand any of it, do not swallow the liquid inside.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A postscript to the previous William Eggleston entry:

"...a photographer wants form, an unarguably right relationship of shapes, a visual stability in which all components are equally important. The photographer hopes, in brief, to discover a tension so exact that it is peace.

"Pictures that embody this calm are not synonymous, of course, with what we might see casually out of a car window. The form the photographer records, though discovered in a split second of literal fact, is different because it implies an order beyond itself, a landscape into which all fragments, no matter how imperfect, fit perfectly."

--Robert Adams

Morals of Vision

I bought my first camera sometime around 1999, during my senior year of high school. I'd been interested in photography for a few years before that—my favorite thing about being on the yearbook staff was getting to roam around the school taking pictures—and finally saved some cash and bought a sturdy black Pentax point-and-shoot. I haven't really used it for a few years now, but the last time I dug it out of the drawer, it worked as well as it ever had.

What is it about photographs that makes them so fascinating. I think, for me at least, they're a way of rendering a moment—a single moment—forever. The subject of the photo, in the moment that it's taken, will never exist again. The light will never be the same, the branches of the tree will never be the same, the expression in a face. A photo preserves something otherwise ephemeral and imparts a simple object with profundity.

A good example of that aesthetic is William Eggleston, who I think I'm willing to call my favorite photographer. His images are, on the surface, so simple, but there is a strange, implied tension. When you look at one of his photographs, you feel as if you just missed some incredible revelation. Critics can say that Eggleston's photos are mundane, that anyone could take them, but those are the same people who decry Jackson Pollock or Piet Mondrian. If anyone thinks Eggleston's photos or Pollock's artwork is so easy, they should try replicating it. They'll undoubtedly find it a lot more difficult than they think.

I love democracy in my art, whether it be Walt Whitman or Carl Sandburg or Robert Frank. That dedication to democracy—no one image is more important than another, all things are equally valid subjects for photography—is what I love most about Eggleston. He takes the banal and creates something sublime of it.

Photography is, like a few other pursuits I enjoy, something I feel I have some talent for, but I lack the discipline to perfect. And when I started taking pictures, without my realizing it, I was ripping Eggleston off. Not because I'd seen his work, or even knew who he was, but simply because his influence was so prevalent. I had the same experience when I discovered the Beats and realized that my own writing was similar to theirs due entirely to the fundamental nature of their work. The same way any American teenager who picks up a guitar and starts playing rock and roll songs is going to, whether they know it or not, owe something to Robert Johnson and Hank Williams and Chuck Berry.

Still, it's hard to shake the feeling of remarkable synchronicity. Imagine the feeling I had when I saw these Eggleston photos, compared to my own pictures, taken years ago with that old Pentax:

It was like meeting a kindred spirit.