August 2005 Archives

Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida has no apparent reason for existing, no message, no discernible structure, and only the faintest of pulses. It’s lazy, mean-spirited, hateful, and tedious. Why, then, is it so valuable?

Eat the Rich

Is it any wonder the dead are fed up and primed for revolt? Is it any surprise that writer/director George A. Romero is cheering them on in Land of the Dead? And is it so hard to see these zombies as a blunt allegory for racial minorities, the impoverished, the politically disenfranchised? On the final question, apparently so.

neko_case_2.jpgNeko Case is a siren whose seductive voice might be the single most alluring instrument in music today — clear, robust, sexy, self-possessed, and expressive, with an endearing hint of nasally imperfection.

On her solo albums, that voice is the centerpiece of beautifully arranged country-tinged songs, without a hint of irony. They’re dark, atmospheric, and — at their most world-weary — nearly spectral in their power to haunt. And the 34-year-old singer/songwriter can belt without any sign of strain, or lay on the syrup of an old-time country crooner.

In concert, she is eerily powerful, summoning gooseflesh with her intense, full-bodied, and seemingly effortless singing. Only late in a 90-minute set are there any signs of fatigue, as she holds onto the microphone for support and gets ever-so-slightly loose with her enunciation.

And when she’s sick of being Neko, she can retreat into being a Pornographer.

The Spoiler’s Creed

In the context of my essay on Batman Begins, my wife has asked me to deal with the issue of spoilers. Here then, is my Spoiler’s Creed.

In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan uses the superhero mythology to create an epic study of ethics, evil, fear, and justice. It’s a bracing, dark, provocative, and serious work that at last transcends the juvenile roots of the comic-book genre. It’s not just the best superhero movie ever made, but likely also the best mainstream film of 2005.

Junior Brown is about as matter-of-fact as people get. On record and in interview, he sounds as excitable as a corpse. About his upcoming live record, due in September? He says it’s “just to answer some requests. ” About his role as narrator in the new Dukes of Hazzard movie, taking over where Waylon Jennings left off on the TV series? “They just offered it to me.” About the instrument he invented, the double-necked guit-steel? “I’d been thinking about something like that.”

And based on his publicity photos, he appears to be someone incapable of a smile; his eyes are squinty, his lips are twisted into a grimace, and the expression is as welcoming as most people’s snarls.

I imagined Brown could tell me that his cat died, his wife left him, and the bank took his house and car, all without a trace of emotion or trouble in his voice.

But don’t mistake his cool for dull or pedestrian. Junior Brown is one of country music’s finest wits and instrumentalists, a man who fuses country motifs with rock-star skills.

When Eric Mardis was a teenager, he dreamed the way most adolescent boys dream: “I totally wanted to be a rock star,” he said in a phone interview, “a cross between [Deep Purple’s] Ritchie Blackmore and [Metallica’s] Kirk Hammett. “

These days Mardis — who is now 33 — has a rock band and a jazz quartet, but his primary job is not at all what he imagined. He speaks of it almost as if he were at a 12-step meeting — somewhat shamefully: “I play banjo in a neo-whatever bluegrass band.”

That would be Split Lip Rayfield, a pickin’-and-grinnin’ outfit for people who like rock music.