Thursday, May 21, 2015

Asha Bhosle: 'The Golden Collection' (1996)

This collection of Asha Bhosle movie tunes is a trip. I can hear South and East Asian elements here and some of Asha Bhosle's vocal style in Vietnamese rock and pop music from the 1960s and 1970s. There are also European, American and Middle Eastern tinges. It's in Hindi but it's global. It's cool. 

May take a while for some ears to take in Asha Bohsle's often high-piercing vocals, but above all, she lays down some serious trance music.
Using Google Translate, one can covert Hindi song titles into other languages. Track Number 9 on CD 1, from Hindi into English: "Jaiye aap kahan jayenge" = "Where Will You Go?"   
The thirty-one tracks in Asha Bhosle: The Golden Collection (1996) were "arranged by Sanjeev Kohli," according to a note on the back cover of the CD. He was a major music producer and executive at HMV (EMI India) at the time, and a strong promoter of international music. For the record, the back cover also lists RPG, and The Gramophone Company of India. The tracks here range in recording years from 1957 to 1986.  

Asha Bhosle  (born in 1933) and her big sister Lata Mangeshkar (born in 1929) have both recorded thousands of songs. They are widely known as "playback singers," -- that is to say, actors lip-sync their recorded vocals in movie scenes.

Thank you Asha Bhosle, Sanjeev Kohli, Lata Mangeshkar and India for these tracks. I now pass this anthology forward.

Today's Track: Breakthrough. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Albert King: "A Big Legged Woman Gonna Carry Me to My Grave"

Albert King (1923-1992), like Wilson Pickett, hit the big time with Stax Records in Memphis. Both musicians, backed by Booker T. & The MG's, took off in the mid-1960s -- Pickett with "In the Midnight Hour" in 1965, King in 1966 with "Laundromat Blues." King's knockout signature song came in 1967 with "Born Under a Bad Sign:"

"If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."
King was a big guy and a biting, singing guitar player -- like the just passed B. B. King (1925-2015). 

From this 1999 Rhino Records anthology -- The Very Best of Albert King (Blues Masters series), I particularly like:

"Born Under a Bad Sign"
"Cold Feet"
and "Cadillac Assembly Line" 

Thank you, Albert King (and B.B. King, while giving thanks), thanks also to Rhino Records for this anthology. And now, adieu, adieu -- this CD now off to someone new.

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

James Lee Burke spices up his novels with asides that inspire additional consideration. For instance, this snippet from Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), page 332:

"Green glanced up at the sky . . . 'You know what they say about Texas. If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes.'"  

And indeed, I've heard this said in Texas many times. Sometimes it's "wait fifteen minutes."

"'It was Missouri,' she said. . . 'Mark Twain said that about Missouri, not Texas. It's funny how people get a quotation wrong, and then the misquote takes on a life of its own. It's a bit like most relationships. We never get it quite right. The fabrication becomes the reality.'
Green nodded as though he understood . . ."

What may be even stranger is this: Burke's "she" gets the details wrong, too.

Here's the original quotation by Mark Twain, dated December 22, 1876: "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes."

(Documented in Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations, Oxford University Press, 2006, page 472).

"You know what they say about [this state or locale]: if you don't like the weather . . ." 

Whenever someone begins with this old-timey routine, I'm thinking: let me guess how this ends. Is there anything new under the sun?

Furthermore, why do people think that each state (or province or territory) has its own weather? Does anyone really believe that weather respects imaginary borderlines? 

Catherine Wheel: 'Like Cats and Dogs'

Catherine Wheel's Like Cats and Dogs (1996): 77 minutes of trippy Pink Floydesque music parsed into thirteen tracks of various dimensions: ambient, eerie, haunting -- reflected in the front cover of the CD.  
Not only does some of Catherine Wheel's music sound like Pink Floyd, but check out track number 2: their own version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." Track 13 is "hidden."

Now that I've given this anthology another listen and am posting about it, time to say thanks and let go: "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. . ."

Today's Rune: Possessions. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dardenne Brothers: 'Rosetta' (1999)

In Rosetta (1999), another independent Belgian Walloon film gem by the Dardenne Brothers, there's a woman in trouble. No, there are two women in trouble: the 17-year old title character Rosetta (played by Émilie Dequenne, who won the Palme d'Or for her efforts) and her mother. They live in a Belgian trailer park sadly called "The Grand Canyon;" Mommie Dearest gives mended clothes to Rosetta to sell in town while she trades sex for booze, rent and utilities with the trailer manager and other "friends." Rosetta wants out of the situation -- i.e., she wants to save her mother and herself -- by finding a stable job. For various reasons, this proves to be an elusive goal.
Several details of the film stick to mind. Rosetta has specific ways of getting through each day despite suffering stomach aches. Some of them are crafty, some of them self-defeating. She catches fish in a large, mud-slicked pond with a broken glass bottle, hook and bait -- very clever. She hides her wading boots in a dirty little culvert (dubious). She wears the same town clothes pretty much every day, hand washing them outside the trailer. She drinks water from the same dirty little water bottle. She always runs across traffic to get to and from her trailer park, via a creepy wooded area. She has a terrible temper and a propensity to fight. She projects onto a temporary co-worker, the waffle-maker Riquet, the ways of her mother's male "friends." Maybe she's right to do so, but she needs to make friends, some kind of social connection, or she will either go crazy or worse. What's gonna happen? 
The Dardenne Brothers are cool filmmakers. Above all, Rosetta is in no way a sentimental movie; in fact, it's quite visceral and absorbing -- the Zen of Purgatory. They seem to enjoy showing patterns of daily life; they are not afraid to show habits and repeated processes for emphasis.

Finally, it's worth noting that Olivier Gourmet, who plays the waffle kingpin in Rosetta, also appears in other Dardenne films. Here, his character is that of a slightly smarmy boss.

Today's Rune: Strength.   

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wilson Pickett: "In the Midnight Hour"

The KonMari method of "tidying" frees up shelf space. Too, it inspires joyful reunions with half-forgotten CDs like this Wilson Pickett (1941-2006) anthology.  

The dapper, raspy-voiced Pickett came into his own with the release of "In the Midnight Hour." This track "entered the R & B chart on May 26, 1965, at number thirty-five," then "climbed to number one and spent nearly three months on the chart. . ." - Robert Gordon, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), page 107. That was all it took to hit the big time.
Coming to Memphis for the "In the Midnight Hour" recording session, Alabama-born Detroiter Wilson Pickett stayed at the Lorraine Hotel (pictured above in a 2014 photo). Here he and guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the MG's put together the basics for "In the Midnight Hour." The rest was worked out in the Stax studio.

"'[T]hey built the record organically -- not deductively. I'd see the MG's come to work in the morning, hang up their coats, gather up their axes, and start playing music. Maybe it was some chord changes, maybe it was a lick, maybe it was a song, but they started playing, they started building it. I said, My God, this is fantastic'" - Jerry Wexler, quoted in  Robert Gordon, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), page 107.

In this 1993 Wilson Pickett CD anthology, several strong tracks follow the big opener. I particularly like "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)," "Land of 1000 Dances," "Mustang Sally," "Funky Broadway" and "She's Lookin' Good."

All right, look a-here! 
When you wear your wigs, baby, you wear your dresses tight 
You wear your 44, baby, when you step out late at night 
You're lookin' good . . .

Now that I've listened to this fun CD a few more times, pondered its contents, written about it and expressed gratitude  -- I can give it away. Yes!

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kang Je-gyu's 'My Way' / 마이 웨이 (2011): Take Two

Shirai (Fan Bingbing), one of the characters in Kang Je-gyu's My Way / 마이 웨이 (2011) is a Chinese sniper. There were thousands of women snipers engaged in combat during the World War II period-- none of them American. Consider Lyudmila "Lady Death" Pavlychenko, a Ukrainian Soviet sniper who killed 309 Axis men. Women snipers fought during the American War in Vietnam, as is depicted in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket (Ngoc Le plays a Viet Cong sniper).    
Another element of Kang Je-gyu's My Way / 마이 웨이 (2011): the runner. The two main characters compete in races before the outbreak of war -- just as in Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981). In both films, running is another way to spotlight race, class and socio-economic competition. It makes one think of the Olympics, the ancient Greeks, The Iliad and the "tribal core" sports of the 21st century. It also might make one think of the Robert Altman film MASH (1970), set during the Korean War of 1950-1953, and prison films like Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard (1974), as well as Hugh Hudson's Chariots of Fire (1981), which among other things deals with anti-Semitism. In My Way, there is not only the runner vs. runner aspect; at Normandy, we see Axis soldiers playing football (i.e. soccer) before the coming Allied invasion.
Kang Je-gyu's My Way / 마이 웨이 (2011) also deals with prisons, POW camps, gulags, concentration camps, forced labor and all of their most terrible conditions. Indeed, the German title for the film at its 2012 release in Germany was Prisoners of War -- in English. 

Since forever, it seems, POWs and prisoners in general have been treated very badly. Who would want to be trapped in an Iranian or North Korean prison? Or a Chinese, German, Russian, Turkish one? Or a French or British penal colony? During the American Civil War, both sides treated POWs in an abysmal manner, leaving them -- their fellow  Americans -- exposed to the elements, malnourished and decimated by infectious disease. Captured freedmen and free black men were either executed or sent back into, or into, slavery. Today, groups like the so-called Islamic State execute prisoners en masse. I doubt treatment of prisoners in ancient times was a pretty picture, either. 

Why are prisoners treated so cruelly? It's so easy -- too easy. Millions of prisoners -- civilians and soldiers, grownups and children -- perished while in prisons, camps and gulags during WW2. Millions more died in captivity after the war, never returned by the captor nations to their home countries -- or expatriated and then imprisoned-to-death in their home countries. My Way reminds us.

Today's Rune: Growth.