Music, Book and Movie Reviews

Jim Harrison Can Make You a Better Animal – The Daily Beast

Arguably America’s greatest living author—and certainly our earthiest—lives half the year in Livingston, Montana. It’s a town grounded in the early 20th-century West, with neon signs on brick buildings and mountains in the background, all crowned by a former train depot that was once the preferred entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The town is a reminder of a time when authors were respected ambassadors of a mythic America, the dream readers who could shrink large distances with their dispatches, articulate outlaws who could drink and fight and fuck and still file on deadline, drawing a straight line from Jack London to Ernest Hemingway with a thousand wasted wannabees in between.

Jim Harrison steps out of that tradition, but with contempt for its pretensions. He is all appetite and no apologies. And so the author of Legends of the Fall and 30 other books, including The Farmer’s Daughter (newly released in paperback), is one of the most accessible of modern American writers whose work is filed under “literature.” He is not locked inside his head but connected to the land and heart and, especially, stomach. For all his freely admitted highs and lows, buoyed by lust and flashes of violence, he keeps the virtues of kindness and forgiveness close. His writing reminds us to try our best to be happy animals in an unsentimental world. Read More…

Ode to the Independent Bookstore

In September, the final Borders stores closed, adding to the funeral pyre of big-box stores content providers that went before them, like Tower Records or Virgin Megastores.

Some people believe it is only a matter of time until all bookstores go the way of the horse and buggy. But all is not lost—at least not yet.

After all, we vote with our wallets. And if you care about the unique character of your community, if you believe in rewarding the rugged independence of small businesses, then your local independent bookstore deserves your support, now more than ever. This is an admittedly counter-cultural effort—but that is part of its appeal and sense of purpose. Read More…

Why ‘The Newsroom’ matters –

Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show “The Newsroom” represents the reality of working in television news about as accurately as “The West Wing” captured working in politics — which is to say, not at all.

But both dramas did something more worthwhile: They expressed the idealism that should animate these careers. And in this time of creative destruction throughout the news industry, it’s more important than ever before. That’s why “The Newsroom” matters.

When “The West Wing” debuted in 1999, the political arena was suffering from a well-deserved dose of post-Monica cynicism. The smart kids were all making piles of money on Wall Street by surfing the tech bubble, and with the 2000 election looming between Bush and Gore, the status quo of peace and prosperity seemed boring. Read More…

‘Sopranos’ a Violent Fantasy for Middle-Aged Guys –

Why do we love gangsters — at least the ones on TV and in the movies?

The sudden death of actor James Gandolfini at age 51 has brought a round of instant nostalgia for the HBO show he led at the turn of the millennium, “The Sopranos.” It helped define the time for people living it, stretching between the excesses of the Clinton years and the grim patriotic grit of the post-9/11 period.

There was very little admirable about the character of Tony Soprano — most of us don’t murder on our lunch break — and yet he became a kind of elevated everyman. Read More…

Baseball is Back, Thank God –

Forget Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions. The words “Play ball!” are the most dependable sign that spring has arrived in America. Finally, baseball season is here.

Maybe because it is an outdoor game, with a schedule stretching across three seasons. Maybe because it is a child’s game played by men, bridging the different times of our lives. But the start of the baseball season is always greeted with relief, a sign of rebirth and hope, that this year appropriately coincides with Easter.

Winter is over. The bleak time has been survived. And slowly but soon the familiar rhythms of life will reassert themselves. This, as it’s referred to in the film “Bull Durham,” is the church of baseball, open to all. Read More…

Oscar Likes His Political Flicks Real –

With a crop of political movies in the Oscar running, this weekend Hollywood is looking more like Poliwood. Best Picture contenders such as “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln” have managed to pay off at the box office even as they brought politics and history to the big screen — proof that we’ll take smart over stupid as long as we’re entertained while educated.

But what’s really notable about these films is that for the most part they avoid hagiography. They dare to show complexity. This doesn’t mean indulging in moral relativism; evil exists and these films acknowledge it. But the human dimension is kept intact rather, with characters not divided into simply angels versus devils. The real tradeoffs behind difficult decisions are acknowledged, consistent with the idea that the truth is never pure and rarely simple. Read More…

Richard Ben Cramer Dies – The Daily Beast

News that Richard Ben Cramer died swept through the Twitterverse on Monday night, even before a hint of his passing hit major news outlets.

It was oddly appropriate, because the cult of Richard Ben Cramer was always first a word-of-mouth initiation, as in: “You’ve got to read this.” Journalists passed his work among them like samizdat, old articles referred to more than read, finally put online after persistent if not widespread demand. He was just that much better than anyone else. Read More…

Rewriting the Constitution – OutFront – CNN

There’s a new movie out portraying Abraham Lincoln as both a defender of freedom and… a vampire hunter. Yes.

In what appears to be a trend of irreverent but oddly heartfelt takes on American history, The Daily Show Senior Writer Kevin Bleyer has taken it upon himself to rewrite our nation’s most sacrosanct document in his new book “Me the People: One Man’s Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution.”

A comedy writer rewriting the constitution? What could possibly go wrong?

Ode to the Bookstore – The Daily Beast

In September, the final Borders stores closed, adding to the funeral pyre of big-box stores content providers that went before them, like Tower Records? or Virgin Megastores.

Some people believe it is only a matter of time until all bookstores go the way of the horse and buggy. But all is not lost—at least not yet. Read More…

When Good Candidates Go Bad – The Daily Beast

George Clooney is a political junkie. The son of a newsman explored the intersection of government and journalism in the Oscar-winning Good Night and Good Luck. Now he’s taking on presidential campaigns in The Ides of March, a political thriller that fits the feel of this election season—more dark and cynical than hope and change.

Talking from his home in Lake Como, Italy, as he prepared for the movie’s launch at the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 31, Clooney framed his latest effort as actor, director, and screenwriter in almost classical terms: “The story is about ambition—do the ends justify the means? At what price do we sell our souls?”

Ides stars Ryan Gosling as a young presidential campaign aide forced to confront an illusion-shattering scandal on the eve of a pivotal March primary fight in Ohio. It’s a tight little morality tale on the campaign trail that manages to be both timely and universal. Read More…

U2 Showed the Relevance of Rock Music – NY Sun

One year ago, New Yorkers were still walking around in a haze: unmoored internally, rocked by shock, anger, disbelief, and despair. The days were surreal but they were not silent – music helped see us through. And one album, more than any other, seemed to be the soundtrack of that time – U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”

The album had been released in October 2000 but had fallen to 108th place on the Billboard chart by September 10th. Its earnest message about the search for what’s essential and an unfashionable emphasis on melody in a techno-inspired world left the biggest band on earth seeming vulnerable and, some whispered, irrelevant. Read More…

Soundtrack to Economic Anxiety –

In a fall defined by market chaos, the long road of the campaign has ended up in uncharted economic territory — amid voters’ competing emotions of anxiety, aspiration and anger.

After the spring primaries’ reversals of fortune and the hot summer months’ marathon, we’re far enough along to begin viewing the cycle with some perspective — at least a musical perspective.

Because if you’re a political junkie, you know that each campaign season has its signature song. Read More…

Two Lost American Outlaws – New York Press

Cash & HST—Honest men outside the law

Last Saturday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, 7:00 p.m. Woody Creek time, Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were shot out of a giant cannon, full of fireworks and in the shape of a fist. The invite for the official send-off at Thompson’s Owl Farm in Colorado was restricted to 350 of Hunter’s closest friends, including actors Johnny Depp, Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson. Music was provided by Lyle Lovett. Two Democratic presidential candidates, George McGovern and John Kerry, were reportedly on hand to pay their respects, which might say more than a raft of textbooks about the real difference between the parties.

Across the continent, a small group of friends gathered on the roof of Owen Brennan Round’s house in Alphabet City to send off the good doctor with a glass of his favorite whiskey, Chivas Regal, on ice. We listened to “Walk on the Wild Side,” and at 7 p.m. Woody Creek time, as a giant full yellow moon ascended above the rooftops, we offered a toast, then poured the last drops from the bottle on the roof, in the spirit of an Irish wake. Read More…