Michael Gaughn Tag

Cover Me: Addendum

Propellerheads Star-Crossed Lovers
Propellerheads & Martha Wainwright, “Star-Crossed Lovers”

I knew this would happen. I wrote up my random list of covers and then told myself I was going to move on. But my brain just would not stop gnawing on that bone. So it guided me back to the Propellerheads “History Repeating” video. But, as I was watching it, I realized that wasn’t supposed to be my goal. This was:

 

I don’t want to be indulgent, continuing to pile tracks onto my list as they pop into my head. But it would be beyond remiss of me not to mention and praise this one. And the irony is that it’s off a tribute album.

Whatever works in this cover off the Duke Ellington tribute Red Hot + Indigo is irreducible—which means it can’t be bottled, which means it both expresses and reaches beyond its moment, which means whatever it is it does right only exists on this track and nowhere else. And pop music hates that, because it runs completely against the grain of its assembly-line, Thou Must Conform nature.

 

Good.

 

“Star-Crossed Lovers” is both hardcore and gorgeous, and you really can’t do any better than that.

Michael Gaughn

 

Red Hot + Indigo is available for streaming on YouTube, Google Play Music, and Deezer.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Cover Me

My turn.

 

There are so many songs I could have listed here—and so many I could have called out for trying to be covers and falling so far short. (Something Dennis and I pondered a couple days ago: The world is awash in tribute albums—so why don’t they ever produce good covers?)

 

If I really took the time to suss out all the best cover songs, I could probably come up with a scary long list. But since I’m without access to most of my music collection at the moment (Die Apple! Die!), I’m just going to pluck a few favorites almost at random out of the memory stream.

 

 

Cake, “I Will Survive”

Maybe the ballsiest cover ever, and the kind of radical reinterpretation that’s been missing from pop music for a long, long time. There’s no way Cake’s loud and proud middle finger could ever make its way into the mainstream in this far less tolerant time—which is one of the most damning things you can say about the way-too-easy-to-damn present.

Ben Folds, “Songs of Love”

Only two things are guaranteed to put me in a bulletproof good mood—’20s small-group jazz and Folds’ take on this song.

 

(But I’ve gotta give an Honorable Mention to “Bitches Ain’t Shit” off the same album.)

Tom Waits, “Somewhere”

The moment Waits’ voice tumbles in after the languid, soaring, wistful string intro couldn’t be more wrong, and couldn’t be more right—which I’m pretty sure is the working definition of sublime.

 

 

Propellerheads, “Goldfinger”

Can a remix be a cover? Does it matter?

 

As long as somebody reinterprets a song in a way that simultaneously takes you someplace totally new while keeping you firmly grounded in the original, it’s a cover, no matter how they get you there. To love this track, you sort of have to shove the steep, steep downside of Bond culture off to your peripheral vision and ride the wave of the track’s giddy emotion for all it’s worth.

The Avalanches, “Since I Left You”

This one really stretches the definition of a cover—but isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that the adventure? At what point do the samples stop being independent tracks? When are they subsumed by the larger whole and become indistinguishable elements of the new song created out of their disparate parts? And, no matter how heavily manipulated, can you ever completely extinguish the spirit of the original? But those are all questions for Walter Benjamin, I guess.

Sid Vicious, “My Way”

I realize Vicious’ punk gutting of Sinatra’s creaky anthem is an obvious choice, but it’s a lot more than the one-note joke most people think it is. Just compare it to Gary Oldman’s tepid stab in Sid & Nancy and you’ll get the point. Everybody’s drooling over Oldman right now, but he didn’t even come close to capturing Vicious, the good or the bad. (That Hollywood had to give Oldman a bigger gun tells you everything you need to know about Sid & Nancy—and Hollywood.)

 

(Kubrick contemplated ending Full Metal Jacket with Vicious’ “My Way”—and he should have. It would have taken the film to a hell of a lot better place than the way too obvious “Paint It Black.”)

Zooey Deschanel, “Tonight You Belong to Me”

I’ve never been able to stomach Zooey Deschanel as an actor. Her tomboy to It Girl transformation always seemed a little too forced, and New Girl was one of the worst examples of shameless pandering I’ve ever been unlucky enough to encounter. But Zooey the media spectre and Zooey the would-be performer are two other animals completely. With She & Him, she’s somehow been able to rise above her obvious limitations as a singer/musician—and her both controlled and erratic cover of this guileless song drives that point home in spades. (And if you’ve never seen it before, check this one out too.)

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Our Favorite Underrated Stuff (Pt. 4)

Mike Gaughn’s recent Favorite Underrated Stuff post sent me on a journey down memory lane that had me recalling some underrated stuff from my past I felt compelled to share.

 

Flash back to California’s Bay Area in the early 1990s . . .

 

I lived in downtown Berkeley, California, about a mile walk from UC Berkeley, in a large house owned by my best friend that he rented out to six other college students. I worked as a golf pro at a private country club in nearby Orinda,

where one of my best friends from high school, Pierre, also worked while he went to Cal.

 

Every Tuesday night, all the theaters in downtown Berkeley had a “$2 Tuesday” deal where the majority of films were—you guessed it—two bucks. After work, Pierre and I would have some golf-related challenge—putt-off, long drive, bunker shots, etc.—where the loser would have to pay for the winner’s movie. Or beer. We tried not to be too rigid.

underrated stuff

Nearly every Tuesday, we would go and see a movie. Often, we had nothing specific in mind—we would just stroll down Shattuck Avenue, where there were multiple theaters, and we would see what was playing that looked interesting. Two-Dollar Tuesday was a buffet where you were free to sample anything and everything, and we did. We saw foreign films, independent films, obscure and bizarre unrated films, and, occasionally, even mainstream fare.

 

It was terrific to experience such a variety of cinema—the mental equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff against a wall and seeing what stuck.

 

Here are some of my favorites from that glorious three-year period . . .

Flirting

This Australian coming-of-age film takes place at two boarding schools—one all boys, one all girls—separated by a lake, and stars Noah Taylor, Nicole Kidman, and the screen debut of 16-year old Thandie Newton, who is just perfect in this role. I love the awkwardness of Taylor’s Danny Embling as he fumbles through each scene, struggling to fit in at a new school while slowly developing his confidence, and the slow development of his relationship with Newton’s Thandiwe, who has her own set of struggles, being the only black girl at school and dealing with Kidman’s mean girl, Nicola. You can’t watch this movie and not root for Danny, both cringing and cheering along with him, and remembering those tender/sweet/clumsy moments of the beginnings of a childhood crush. This film is in my Kaleidescape collection, and one I still return to on occasion.

 

Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World)

This takes place in the 17th Century and examines the life of French composer and viola player, Marin Marais, and the complex relationship with his mentor and instructor, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, and Colombe’s daughters, Madeleine and Toinette. Interestingly, as time changes throughout the film, older and younger Marais are played by father and son duo Gerard and Guillaume Depardieu. Entirely in French with subtitles, this is the first foreign film I can remember really loving, and it also gave me an ongoing passion for musical works featuring viola and cello. The music throughout the film is beautiful and is used to drive and carry each scene.

 

Tous les matins du mondes is available on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu & iTunes

 

A Midnight Clear

Another film with a young, star-studded cast that includes Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawke, Arye Gross, and Gary Sinise, this World War II-era drama plays out at Christmas with a band of US troops discovering a weary group of Germans cut off from their main force. The hungry and tired German soldiers would rather surrender than fight and die, and the two sides develop an uneasy friendship as they co-exist in near quarters and come up with a plan allowing the Germans an honorable surrender. The acting is terrific throughout, and while the film builds towards it tense climax, it really shows the human side of conflict.

Night on Earth

It has been years since I’ve seen this movie, but I remember loving the randomness of it as Jim Jarmusch weaves together five different cab rides from five different cities around the world on the same night at the exact same time. The film’s action travels easterly from LA, to New York, to Paris, to Rome, and finally to Helsinki and features a wide range of actors, including a chain-smoking Winona Ryder, a rapid-fire and sex-obsessed Roberto Benigni, a new-to-America former clown Armin Mueller-Stahl, along with Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, and Gena Rowlands. Each vignette includes a nice mix of humor and drama and gives an interesting look at life around the world from inside a cab.

 

Night on Earth is available on Amazon

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Our Favorite Underrated Stuff (Pt. 3)

underrated stuff--Flirting with Disaster
Flirting With Disaster

This is the movie that started the whole “underrated” thing here. I mentioned it to Dennis Burger, and he hadn’t heard of itwhich didn’t surprise me since few people have.

 

I’ve more than once suggested watching Flirting With Disaster when I’ve been with friends only to have them nix the idea when they saw the program guide’s two-star rating. So there I was telling them it was a great movie, and they let themselves be swayed by some generic manifestation of mass opinion.

Screw the program guide. This deserves a gander.

 

Flirting is very early David O. Russell, and leagues better than the acclaimed The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle (or the unfortunate Huckabees and Three Kings). Ben Stiller plays the smart but put-upon nebbish he would draw thinner and thinner milk from in the unnecessary Meet the Parents series, Patricia Arquette is the slightly flaky but wise and long-suffering 

underrated stuff

wife, Téa Leoni is stunning as the beyond neurotic social worker, George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore do an exquisite turn as Rob & Laurie Petrie having been ravaged by the intervening decades, and Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda are pitch perfect as the counterculture holdouts who aren’t really sure who they are anymore. (And, O yeah, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, and Glenn Fitzgerald excel toobut I don’t want to give too much away.)

 

Flirting With Disaster was ahead of its time, and wouldn’t really make much of an impression until it worked its way through the creative unconscious and into TV series like Freaks and Geeks (see below) and The Office.

 

Pleaseignore the dumbass star ratings and check this one out.

 

Flirting with Disaster is available on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu & iTunes.

 

The Tick (2001)

It’s hard to believe this only lasted nine episodesbut given Fox’s notorious history with great material, I guess no one should be surprised. The Tick doesn’t pretend to be anything but infinitely silly, but there is something deeply satisfying about its whole “What do superheroes do when they’re not superheroing?” premise.

 

There’s a lot to watch this forincluding the under-appreciated Liz Vassey as Captain Liberty and a pre-Dark Knight Nestor Carbonell as Batmanuel. But the standoutphysically and in every other wayis Patrick Warburton, who never gets enough credit for his superhuman comedic timing.

“The Funeral”where Captain Liberty is recruited to escort her idol The Immortal to a book signing only to accidentally polish him off in the sack when they decide to indulge in a quickie along the way, leaving The Tick to dispose of the bodyranks with the funniest stuff ever made. Ever. No point in giving it away, but it’s an almost perfect balance of physical and verbal comedy that could have easily veered off into the stupidly grisly but thankfully opts for character over gratuitous yucks.

The Tick (2001) is available on Amazon, iTunes & Crackle.

 

The Avalanches

I’ve already written these guys up, and, yes, they’re critically acclaimed, but that doesn’t help explain the look of blind incomprehension I usually get when I mention their name.

underrated stuff--Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks

Another one of those things that’s critically acclaimed, and revered now, but was all but ignored at the timeand, like Dennis’s My So-Called Life, is probably for the most part still ignored. But not only did it launch the careers of Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and James Franco, it shows what an incredible career Linda Cardellini would have had if she hadn’t made the mistake of playing Velma in the Scooby-Doo movies. (The Founder?! Really!?!)

 

If you want to go right to the heart of what made the series (which only lasted 12 episodes) great, watch the scene in the Judd Apatow-directed “I’m With the Band” where the geeky kids try to figure out girls while munching on their freeze pops. Everything Apatow would go on to do is foreshadowed and embodied in that one brief scene.

 

And, O yeah, the show was created and guided by Paul Feig, who would become one of the prime forces behind The Office.

Freaks and Geeks is available on Netflix.

underrated stuff--Ed Wood
Ed Wood

Ed Wood isn’t just Tim Burton’s best movie, it’s his only movie. (And most people don’t even know it’s a Burton film.) I know that’s hard for the legions of blindly devoted Burtonites to swallow, but the guy has made a career out of coasting, creating bright shiny surfaces for an increasingly superficial society. So, yes, you could claim he accurately shows us what we see when we look in the mirrorbut I’m not convinced that’s a conscious creative decision. And there’s a hell of a lot more to life than admiring our own reflections.

 

This is Johnny Depp’s best performance, as he plunges with infectious zeal into playing an idiot who had to make movies. (The scene at the Brown Derby where he bounces up and down as a Latin band mambos by says it all.) Martin Landau is masterful as a both pathetic and tragic Bela Lugosi, introducing a depth into the proceedings that’s almost always absent in Burton’s work. And Bill Murray does a nice, if a little unfocused, turn as Bunny Breckinridge.

 

But, because Burton isn’t really that great at either casting or directing, the quality of the performances gets pretty uneven from there. Patricia Arquette, who’s flawless in Disaster, George “The Animal” Steele, and Lisa Marie in particular seem abandoned to their own devices and fail to make much of an impression.

 

But as a meditation on the endless depths of delusion, Ed Wood can’t be beat.

 

Ed Wood is available on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu & iTunes.

Seriously Overrated

It doesn’t seem quite right to spotlight underrated gems without also drawing a little attention to stuff that’s been heaped with way too much praise.

 

The People v. O.J. Simpson

This deliriously over-lauded series was so eager to pander to the predilections of its audience that it ultimately turned out to be as inherently and completely dishonest as its titular character. Showing zero sensitivity for the important issues of race and community the Simpson trial brought to a head, it used Clark and Darden as poster children to promote some dubious current causes instead of admitting that the D.A.’s office was probably just in over its head. A more accurate portrayal would have inevitably been more interesting and insightful too—but never would have made it onto Fox.

 

Beyond that, the show just wasn’t very well made. Sarah Paulson is a good but not great actor who at least made the somewhat one-note Clark character interesting. But the rest of the casting is just sad, especially Cuba Gooding Jr., who doesn’t come close to capturing the essential denseness that defined The Juice.

 

“Another One Bites the Dust” to accompany images of the dwindling jury pool? An elaborate crane shot whose payoff was an image of a stack of magazines sitting in the back of an otherwise empty delivery truck? Stealing the ending of Barry Lyndon as if this self-important twaddle could ever deserve a place in the same universe as Kubrick’s work? The examples of creative laziness and blatant ineptitude go on and on, and yet a lot of people saw this weak stab at dramaturgy as somehow groundbreaking. (Ironic that the same guys who wrote Ed Wood penned this too.)

 

The People v. O.J. Simpson (aka American Crime Story) is available on Netflix.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Polka King

I’ve never known what to make of Jack Black. He’s been good enough in enough things to have a steady career, but he’s always got that smartass look in his eye that makes everything he does feels like a comedy sketch he’s not all in on.

 

He almost busts through that handicap in Netflix’ The Polka King, thanks partly to a heavy, mannered foreign accent that helps him create the semblance of a character. But he doesn’t completely make it—partly because the accent and his delivery have more than a touch of vaudeville, and partly because the movie’s uncertain tone doesn’t allow him—or any of the actors—to completely settle into their roles.

 

The Polka King is based on a documentary about the self-made and self-proclaimed polka legend Jan Lewan, but it’s not really a biopic or a docudrama. Actually, I don’t know what the hell it is, and that’s one of its biggest problems. The first hour feels like textbook Farrelly Brothers—which means there are some really big laughs along the way (which is at least half the reason why I’d recommend checking it out).

 

But then it radically shifts subject matter and tone for a while, and then shifts them again, feeling like three distinctly different scripts grafted onto each other, with the grafts refusing to take. Add to that some basic technical incompetence—some of the shots just don’t match, so you get the sense the setups were rushed—and you’re left wondering how firm the controlling hand was on the rudder.

Netflix The Polka King

Black is entertaining, even if he never manages to step completely beyond doing his standard Jack Black thing. Jenny Slate (Obvious Child) and Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) are killer, pushing well past the limitations of the material. Even Jason Schwartzman is interesting.

 

Yes, I have very mixed feelings about this thing, but it’s worth your time, one, because it does have some big laughs (Black’s “No! I have America up the wazoo!” line is a classic); two, because, even though it’s set mainly in the 80s and 90s, it almost succeeds as an acid-dripping snapshot of the present moment. And, three, any movie with an electric ukulele in it can’t be all bad.

 

Probably its biggest problem is its patrician condescension. The nobility has a tough time portraying the working class without reducing it to caricaturesor, like here, cartoon characters. Also, the desperate need to convince viewers that we’re all the same on the level that counts (a bald-faced lie but essential to attracting a large audience) turns this into another one of those slobbering puppy dog movies that wants to have some grit but ultimately settles for a pat on the head.

 

But The Polka King is worth a look because it at least wants to mean something instead of nothing at all.

 

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Children’s Hour

Hollywood morality

Why O why would anyone, under any imaginable set of circumstances, ever look to anyone in Hollywood for moral guidance? The disease of the cult of celebrity is now so pervasive and runs so deep that we’re coming to rely on show-biz types not only for governance but increasingly, it seems, for instruction on how to live our lives.

 

That, to repeat a refrain from my last piece, is madness. (Both this screed and the “Canary” are far more deeply intertwined than it might at first seem.)

 

We’re talking about entertainers here, for Chrissakespeople paid stupid sums of money to remain children, and just a generation or so removed from circus geeks.

 

And that goes right to heart of the matterand the problem: Only a culture desperate to stay in a state of arrested development would ever come to rely so heavily on people who know so little about what it means to have a meaningful individual and social existence.

Hollywood morality

Hasn’t anybody read Pinocchio? No, that’s rightwe only know the Disney version, and don’t know that in the original book the puppet, tired of being asked to try to separate right from wrong, quickly dispatches his cricket conscience by smashing him against the wall like a, well, bug. 

 

That character in that book, at this moment, is us.

 

We’re settling for sham forms of morality and government, andlet’s be really honestculture too. Everything seems safer and cleaner when you can hold the world at arm’s length, when you can indulge in a steady diet of atrocities without consequence, when you can damn others wantonly, without evidence or deliberation, from an unearned and simplistic sense of absolute certainty.

 

That kind of behavior can’t hold in any realistic version of reality. But, on the other hand, it’s the coin of the realmthe raison d’êtreof movies, TV, and just about any other form of entertainment. There are a few exceptions, of course (fewer every day), but mainly these diversions exist to make life seem simpler and easier than it is by using cartoon heroes to clean up all messes (like Mommy putting the toys back in the crib), which, through identification, gives us an unrealistic and dangerous sense of control.

 

But trying to point any of this out is increasingly like trying to yell into the wind. The camps in these various actions are so deeply entrenched in their positions, so unwilling to see anything except in their own versions of black and white, that they’re completely blind to the fact that they’re all being played like fiddles.

 

But this is what happens when you forget that Hollywood is just an illusion, created to amuse you, and start to take its grease-paint, pasteboard, digital world for real.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Case of the Dead Canary

The Case of the Dead Canary

This started out as a stab at writing a “Best of ’17” list. But when I looked back on the year just past, I’ll be damned if I could pull anything from the wreckage that could really be considered exceptional. And the explanation wasn’t hard to find.

 

Culturally, socially, the land is barren. We’ve so abused the soil for so long that it can no longer sustain new growth.

 

To shift metaphors, the original title for this was going to be, “What Are the Coal Miners Going to Do When All the Canaries Are Gone?” Because, let’s be honest: Those hyper-alert little birds essential to our survival are pretty much extinct.

 

Forty years of relentless bludgeoning by pretty much every aspect of the culture has beaten a necessary sensitivity out of us, not only ensuring every new round of entertainment, political bread & circuses, and even simple social interaction will be more brutal than the last, but making us more and more addicted, and subservient, to the forces leading the assault. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s become impossible to be subjected to American culture on a regular basis and still retain the ability to accurately judge its consequences and its worth.

 

And with the loss of sensitivity has come the loss of other essential qualities like subtlety, nuance, and restraint. Everyone can see the horrific divisions, the rending of the social fabric, that’s played out over the past couple of years, and they all have a vague sense of how bad things have become. But, trained—the phrase used to be “brain-washed”—to believe every situation is a form of conflict, of warfare, to think in terms of Us against Them, they seem incapable of acknowledging what their own actions have done to contribute to this unprecedented catastrophe—and that’s not just out of a convenient myopia. A lot of people—probably most—have just plain lost the ability to adequately assess the situation, let alone figure out a non-(self-)destructive way to address it.

The Case of the Dead Canary

Our entertainment—which sometimes mirrors the cultural landscape, but more often than not helps mold it—shares a lot of the blame. No society has ever been so completely immersed in—and swamped by—its diversions. No entertainment has ever demanded such a complete level of absorption. And no entertainment has ever before become, on a mass level, a form of addiction.

 

There are so many ways to approach this, but let’s try this one on for size: Western entertainment (which has pretty much become all entertainment) is becoming indistinguishable from being hooked up to a pervasive all-day, every-day shock generator. As each new round of movies, shows, games, music, etc. etc. etc. further blunts our nerve endings, it becomes necessary to up the jolts the next time around for us to feel anything at all.

 

Administering jolts has become entertainment’s reason to be—and thus our addiction. Last year’s offerings can’t create the same high they used to, so we need a bigger fix to feel the same elation. But there’s little rational about the experience—edification is just a pretext. This goes right to the primal brain, which is quickly and massively becoming the thing that’s driving the society.

 

Every form of entertainment, whether experienced in a theater with an oversized screen, omnidirectional audio assault, and rolling, jolting seats or on a cellphone through earbuds, is becoming a theme-park ride. We’re drawn and held by the shocks—whether it’s subwoofer-friendly explosions, graphic imagery, relentless conflict, or fetishized portrayals of the unsavory and depraved.

The Case of the Dead Canary

You can’t indulge in dark and edgy and not expect it to keep getting darker and edgier until you’re completely immersed, and lost, in the void. But what does that say about the audience en masse, or the decisions of the individual?

 

Some part of us knows this whole way of twisting the world is inherently degrading, but we ignore that because we constantly need a new fix. And, like with a drug addiction, it’s a habit that’s instilled when we’re still in our formative years, before we’re capable of mature judgment—and will eventually ensure we can’t make any mature decisions at all.

 

And it has the same addictive effect as porn. But since we haven’t yet found a way to take porn completely mainstream, we cultivate and indulge in other forms of obscenity instead.

 

And that helps to explain our pervasive masochism, our obsession with experiencing pain, thinking it will make us stronger when it actually just makes us deader, our obsession with self mutilation and with being punished, which leads us to subconsciously do things that actually work against our own best interests, which then allow us to indulge in the ultimate masochistic battle cry of “Victim!”

 

To quote Howard Beale (sort of), this is madness.

The Case of the Dead Canary

But these aren’t just isolated incidents, or even a still-emerging threat—this is our world, a malady whose center is nowhere and circumference everywhere. And we really seem to like it that way.

 

So, what about the poor canaries? The current solution would be to tell them to toughen up—but that, of course, is absurd. A calloused canary is useless, would be just another desensitized and alienated planetary citizen.

 

Canaries are still essential to our survival, to helping us distinguish reality from illusion in the murk of the cave, and yet we’re gleefully stamping them out in a kind of mass crush video. As much as we might like to think so, we haven’t evolved beyond them—if anything, we seem to devolving in direct proportion to our so-called development. And no one can claim to be fully alive if they’ve lost the ability to feel a whole range of experience, if all they can feel anymore is whatever new forms of brutality the overlords, eager to mold raging but ultimately impotent consumers, deem necessary to feed them.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Judd Apatow: The Return

Judd Apatow

Reviewing this is almost too easy. It’s like being lobbed the biggest, slowest softball ever. Apatow’s a genius. With so much comedy devoted to dragging you nose first through freshly plowed fields of shit, he always tries to bring at least a dollop of humanity to his work. He doesn’t always succeed, but that effort alone still makes him leagues better than all the schmucks who don’t even try.

 

But you have to allow for a lot before you can even start to be objective about his Netflix comedy special. Both the audience at the venue and the one at home are giving him a pretty generous free pass because they love his movies. And let’s be honest—while he’s pretty good here, he’s not polished. No other comedian could be given this big a platform and get away with so many missed beats, or lean on so much cutting to cover up that this was cobbled together from more than one show.

 

That said, it’s more than worth a viewing because, even though he fumbles his way toward most of what he wants to say, almost all of it is worth saying. It’s hard enough just being funny. Trying to add depth to it is almost impossible. Just witness all the comics—from Chaplin to Allen—who’ve been dashed against the rocks of meaning.

Apatow’s career almost foundered after Funny People, and This is 40 was a hard-won victory. This special steers well clear of the former while hugging the shores of the latter—which is both its virtue and its vice.

 

Apatow is, at the end of the day, a crowd-pleaser. But he’s not entirely comfortable in that role, so he sometimes veers toward edgy. But he’s too skittish to actually peer over the edge, so the best you’ll get is a convincing simulation. And, at a time when there are way too many people willing to tell us what we already know, and when “edgy” almost always boils down to the equivalent of somebody hitting themselves in the face with a hammer, it would be good to hear from somebody who’s got a pretty good bead on what we don’t know.

 

So, this is a pretty nice diversion, and probably a better use of your time than almost anything else recent that you could stream. But it would have been nice if it had a little more meat on its bones.

 

Big kudos, by the way, for closing with Randy Newman’s “I’m Different.” Falling on the heels of M. Ward’s close to Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation, it at least shows that comedians—or anonymous others at the production company or back at Netflix headquarters—have pretty good taste in music.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Glenn Gould on Bach

Almost everything that gains traction on YouTubeexcept for the seemingly endless parade of puppies and kittensis some form of tightrope walking, people doing outrageous, often obnoxious, and inevitably trivial things in an attempt to give their vast audience a cheap thrill before it moves on to the next act in the perpetual online freakshow. You get the sense of an entire culturean entire racejust looking for a way to kill some time. But, like Thoreau said, you can’t kill time without injuring eternity.

 

But in the midst of that vast, silly, and pointless circus, you can sometimes find acts of real dexterity, intelligence, creativity, and courage. This one might not seem to fit that bill, but, believe me, it doesand in spades.

Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould was undeniably a geniushe was also undeniably insane. This 1962 program was made before his madness began to get the upper hand. And if you’re willing to appreciate it not by the current standards of brutality, masochism, and degradation but on its own terms, it is, in its seemingly modest way, an astonishing piece of work.

 

This is a bad recording of pretty primitive TV. Grainy image, awkward camera work, maddeningly bad sound. But everything Gould tries to convey manages to break free of those constraints and take you to someplace beyond the limitations of any medium anywhere, anytime, no matter how advanced.

 

In a mere half hour, he delivers a blistering attack on the Western fetishization of reason, uses Bach to reaffirm the essentially conservative nature of art, and conducts and performs a sublime performance of the Cantata 54 that exists only on this beyond abysmal form of playback.

 

But here’s the tightrope part: Watch the monologue he delivers at the beginningan 8-minute, one camera, no cue cards, no edits soliloquy, both highly intellectual and deeply felt, a quirky but spot-on chiding and evisceration of the culture, delivered in the affected cadences of a preening, supercilious prep-school lad. I’m sure it feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to most of the people who watch it. But for the few who can look past the program’s and Gould’s limitations, it’s truly astonishing. And all too rare. And now all but extinct.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

The Office: “Classy Christmas”

The Office Classy Christmas

I realize it might seem like I’ve got a major fixation on The Office (the same way it probably seemed like I had Woody Allen on the brain about a month ago), but making a blanket recommendation for a series isn’t really useful for people who’ve never waded into those waters before. So I wanted to recommend a specific episode to check out, and landed on the Season 7 two-parter “Classy Christmas.”

 

This is really more of a best-of and less something for first-timers, but it showcases all the serie’s various strengths so well that it will still give you a good idea of why The Office is worth the commitment. You’ve got the company Christmas photo, Toby’s jury duty, trashing Woody (see below), the return of Michael’s true love, the outing of Angela’s boyfriend, The Adventures of Jimmy Halpert, a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of Darryl’s custody situation, and some of the best lines in the whole series.

The Office Classy Christmas

But most importantly, you’ve got Office-veteran writer Mindy Kaling and director Rainn Wilson (who plays Dwight) turning the whole Jim/Dwight relationshipwhich was central to the showon its head.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, but Jim’s charms were always lost on mehe struck me as exactly as smug and self-centered as he struck office-temp-turned-corporate-criminal Ryan, who once advised him to give “the whole Jim thing” a rest. So it’s interesting to see dorky Dwight get the upper hand for onceand that’s where most series, eager to hit audience hot buttons and reinforce their prejudices, would have left it.

 

But not Kaling, Wilson, or the other creative forces behind The Officeand while it’s initially funny to see Jim flinching at his comeuppance, by the time the show’s reached its resolution, you actually find yourself feeling sorry for the guy. And who would have thought that was possible? Plus they were able to push Dwight past his usual cartoon darkness to someplace truly scary.

 

A lot of the episode is implausible, but enough of it’s emotionally true that you’re willing to give all the cheats and shortcomings a pass. There’s no one best entry point to The Office, but “Classy Christmas” will definitely do.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.